Australia Awards alumni advocating for change through inclusive education came together at the recently held Australia Awards – Nepal Alumni Forum to discuss ‘Inclusive Education: Policies and Practices in Nepal’. The event, held in Kathmandu in August 2019, brought together over 30 alumni from the education sector and other participants from similar backgrounds, including the Member of Parliament (Upper House), Hon. Prakash Pant.
With the concept of inclusive education increasingly gaining attraction, organisations in Nepal working for people with disability are calling for inclusive education policies and their effective implementation to ensure an enabling and dignified educational environment for children with disability. Australia Awards alumni are among these advocates, whose contributions have led to the formulation of several policies including the Inclusive Education Policy in Nepal.
However, there is a gap between the policies and practices. Participants of the Forum identified that lack of conceptual clarity because of similar terminologies (such as integrated education and special education) and the issue of limited resources leads to major challenges in implementing these policies.
The Chairperson of Autism Care Nepal Society (ACNS) and Australia Awards alumna, Dr Sunita Maleku Amatya, shared that the Government should take the lead in implementing inclusive education initiatives. She argues that, non-government or private sector organisations do not have the capacity or resources to address broad issues concerning disability on their own – and can only complement the Government’s programs.
Participants also discussed possible ways to overcome challenges facing inclusive education practices in Nepal. Recognising Australia Awards alumni as “a great repository of expertise on inclusive education”, Hon. Pant expressed that the alumni could lobby for better policies through their networks. He also expressed his commitment to provide his best possible support for such an endeavour and as a peoples’ representative, take the voices and concerns of inclusive education practitioners to other members of parliament and to the right forums.
Sharing his views, alumnus Tanka Prasad Gautam, the Chief of Inclusive Education Section at the Department of Education, said “Inclusive education should be taken as a part of overall human resources development in education”.
“As we are going to recruit about 27,000 new teachers, we have the opportunity to train them on inclusive education” he added.
Alumnus Raju Basnet, General Secretary of the National Federation of Disabled Nepal (NFDN) – an umbrella association for Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in Nepal – shared that new initiatives to help improve inclusive education in Nepal have recently been introduced. As an example, NFDN is collaborating with Universities in Nepal to prepare a curriculum on disability-related study programs which he believes will prepare qualified and competent human resources on inclusive education.
At the Forum, participants discussed small efforts that could make significant changes in Nepal. Alumnus Sagar Prasain shared that the inclusion of children with disability into a School Children’s Club could boost their confidence; he has recently implemented a similar concept in the hill districts of Nepal as part of his Return to Work project under an Australia Awards Short Course on Inclusive Education.
Forum participants also explored the idea that inclusive education should be perceived as everyone’s responsibility. Alumna Rajuna Singh, who recently returned to Nepal after completing a Master of Special Education through Australia Awards, highlighted the importance of collective efforts and networking for inclusive education.
The discussion was moderated by alumnus Shudarson Subedi, the Former President of NFDN, and the event concluded with a commitment from participants to build a network and organise similar events in the future.
Education is a priority area of Australia Awards in Nepal; while in addition to post-graduate degree programs, 59 Nepalis have participated in three iterations of Australia Awards Short Courses on Inclusive Education.
Australia Awards – Nepal holds a monthly Alumni Forum to recognise the knowledge and contributions of Australian alumni in Nepal and to support alumni in making a difference.