As part of Youth Peace Week, SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board Finland, Vilole Images Productions from Zambia and Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) hosted the online Webinar with the theme “Towards more inclusive education – experiences from Zambia and Ethiopia”. This webinar was geared towards opening up the conversation on the intricacies of educational accessibility for students with disabilities in Ethiopia and Zambia with specific focus on students in Higher Education. In attendance were university students from Finland, Zambia and Ethiopia, as well as other partnering stakeholders and NGO representatives.
First speaker, Musola C. Kaseketi, the Vilole’s executive director from Zambia, who underscored how despite the efforts to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, higher education in Zambia still remains elusive for many. According to her, while Zambia has nurtured projects addressing the needs of the disabled in primary and secondary education, the tertiary education landscape remains untouched by these inclusivity breezes. With 10.9 percent of the adult population living with some form of disability, the urgency of addressing these barriers is apparent more than ever.
Student representatives from University of Zambia similarly shared from personal experience about some harsh realities of insufficient support and infrastructural inadequacies that often shackle disabled students. In higher education, the first challenge for disabled people is to go to university because the entrance exams have not been modified for their special needs and the facilities are often inaccessible.
Yohannes Teklay, inclusive education coordinator from ECDD, elaborated on the systemic lapses despite the initiation of inclusive education policies. He also highlighted the current need for supportive services and accessible venues, but most importantly a sensitized community support to foster a conducive learning environment for disabled students. This realization birthed the project EMPOWER. It aims at leveling the academic playing field, fostering disability inclusion awareness, and urging universities to establish disability centers.
Student representatives from Ethiopia further highlighted that disabled students may even further face marginalization due to societal attitudes, even right from the classroom and unconscious attitudes from the teachers. As a solution to this emphasized the imperative need for attitudinal shifts which can be done through awareness and reorientation.
Jonatan Stenberg, chair of SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board, pointed out that students unions and organizations need to realize the importance of this issue. Student organizations should promote the rights of students with disabilities always when possible. Student representatives from Zambia pointed out that Zambian student unions often have a minister responsible for disability issues.
While concluding the Youth Peace Week event, Tuomas Tuure from Abilis Foundation emphasized that education can create peaceful and sustainable societies. He also mentioned the importance of an overall working societal system, as it is only through holistic effectiveness can the foundation of inclusive education can be built upon. “In order for inclusive education policies to work, other structures must also work”, Tuure said.
In conclusion, while the webinar was more of an initiation of conversation to learn about the present students’ lived experiences it also created a room for stakeholders to ask questions and learn. It recalled the fundamental idea that education, a cornerstone of personal and societal growth, should be accessible to all, transcending physical or societal barriers. These types of dialogues are very much needed and are stepping stones towards the global endeavor to foster an education that truly embodies inclusiveness. Similarly a quick reflection of the conversations shows that the many faces of inclusive education are both a blend of struggle, hope, and relentless pursuit of change. While challenges that still existed were highlighted there were also substantial strides being made in the journey towards more inclusive education globally.
SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board Member Finland