Hesperian Health Guides
Regular School or Special Schools?
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Today, leaders in rehabilitation generally feel that disabled children should attend the same schools as other children, whenever possible.
For mildly or moderately disabled children this should not be a big problem, if the parents, school director, and teachers cooperate. In some communities, however, and especially in rural areas, parents may not even think of sending their disabled child to school. They may fear that their child will be teased or have too hard a time. And in some places, school directors or teachers refuse to accept even a moderately disabled child with a quick mind. Distance and other problems getting to school also add to the difficulties.
Wherever possible, try to overcome these problems. Village rehabilitation workers can talk to teachers, parents and other schoolchildren and try to work out the best situation. At times parents may need to organize and put pressure on the schools to change their policies. In some countries, laws exist requiring government schools to accept and make special provisions for disabled children. Rehabilitation workers and parents can find out about the laws, and try to have them enforced. Or they can work to get laws passed if they do not exist.
Every effort should be made to make regular schooling easier and more enjoyable for the disabled child. Some possibilities that involve other schoolchildren have already been discussed in Chapter 47 (CHILD-to-child).
For more severely disabled children, attending regular schools often may not be possible, at least as schools exist today. Yet, sometimes if you talk with the teachers and other children, they will become more understanding and make special arrangements.
For example, we know a boy with spina bifida who lacks bowel control and therefore never went to school. But after his parents talked with the teacher and schoolchildren, an agreement was reached. Now the boy goes to school. When he has an accident in his pants, he quietly gets up and goes home to bathe and change. (Fortunately his house is very near the school.)
Children who are deaf can learn well in schools where there are both deaf and hearing children if the teacher makes an effort to teach all children sign language. But if a deaf child is not taught sign language, it can harm his ability to learn. Sometimes it is best for a deaf child to go to a residential school where he can study with other deaf children and come home to his family on weekends.
In cases where some disabled children cannot attend regular school, other alternatives may be possible. In cities of some countries there are ‘special education’ programs for children with certain disabilities. Such schools, if private, can be very expensive, and if public, can be overcrowded or have long waiting lists.
In the rural areas, with rare exceptions, there are no special education programs. However, parents of disabled children may be able to organize and form their own ‘special school’. The group helps each child to learn at her own pace and in her own way. An example of such a school is ‘Los Pargos’ in Mazatlan, Mexico. Also, the Centre for Community Rehabilitation Development in Pakistan has helped organize parent-run special education programs in many towns.
If no opportunity for regular or special schooling can be worked out—or even if it can—perhaps some arrangement can be made for study at home. Children who do go to school, either non-disabled or disabled, may be able to help teach the severely disabled children at home after school. A community rehabilitation program can also include a study program for disabled children and youths. Project PROJIMO has arranged at the local village school for attendance of children with special needs who have had difficulty in schools elsewhere. In addition, the disabled rehabilitation workers assist the children who need special tutoring in the evenings.
This book does not cover the details and methods of special education. It is important that the methods used be adapted to the local customs and situation—not just borrowed from Europe or the USA, as is often done. An excellent book on Special Education For Mentally Handicapped Pupils, by Christine Miles, has been developed for a program in Pakistan, and has many ideas for adapting to the local culture.