Why isn’t inclusion still on the agenda of schools’? How small can our bubbles get?

VL & JL are sisters; my schoolmates, class 1 through 10 (’79-’89). VL was a couple of years older and autistic (we didn’t know that then). We only knew she was ‘different’ from us — but as kids tend to be, we were in turns terribly mean and fantastically kind.

I am sure the nuns in the convent didn’t give much thought to admitting VL — the parents wanted her to have a bit of education, preferably along with the ‘smarter’ younger sister.

Experts, I guess, will agree that the nuns — best intentions be damned — did the girls a disservice. I say girls, because both VL & JL got the short end of the straw.

The teachers let VL be; VL didn’t want that, she wanted to be part of everything; So it fell on JL not only to support her sister (which is to be expected), but be totally responsible for her (which is unfair).

Ideally, VL should have gone to a school like this or this to begin with, before she was included again.

But I am not going fault the nuns — their intentions were sympathetic at worst, noble at best. And like most sympathetic intentions, this didn’t go quite right either.

Anyway, by talking about what happened a good 20+ years ago, I am merely placing in context, my current grouse.

Why isn’t inclusion more prevalent?

Why aren’t our school rooms more accommodative of children who are challenged in some manner? Or differentl-abled… or whatever the current politically correct nomenclature is.

Am sorry if I sound rude, but at the end of the day, words don’t mean much — handicapped, crippled, disabled, challenged, differently-abled. If we don’t provide an opportunity to integrate at 5-or 6-years in fairly prejudice-free environs of a school, how will we ensure integration at workplaces that are predisposed to biases?

What the nuns unwittingly managed to achieve, over 10 years, was to sensitise a bunch of us. To get us to understand that being ‘different’ wasn’t bad. That being in school was not merely about cent percent marks and state ranks.

Unfortunately, my daughter after 5 years of schooling has little or no exposure to children who are different from her. She associates physical or mental disability with children in war-torn areas of the Middle East or drought-hit regions of Africa. Because she sees them only on Red Crescent or Zakat postcards/tickets that are sold outside supermarkets. She thinks that those who cannot see, hear, talk, don’t look ‘normal’ must be poor, and in need of financial help.

She is 8-years-old, and the conversation with her is ongoing. Hopefully, her perceptions will change.

But the point is, shouldn’t there be a more level playing field?

Shouldn’t children who can see study with those who can’t? Those who can hear/talk play with those who are unable to?

Shouldn’t children with different cognitive abilities learn to work together?

Every time someone ‘different’ becomes part of a group or process, everyone benefits. In fact, the ‘normal’ folks get a lot more out of it.

In our quest to rear little geniuses and celebrate precocity, aren’t we failing our kids by not giving them a more wholesome education experience?

Most of us are threatened by people and experiences that don’t fall within our comfort level — that means excluding those with disabilities, those of different sexual orientation, of a foreign faith, even nationality… We want to make our bubbles/boxes as tight and as compact as possible. Be warned, you will suffocate! 

In Qatar, because of the high rate of consanguineous marriages (over 50%), the incidence of congenital disorders is also quite high. Premarital genetic testing is now compulsory, and to-be-wed couples are counselled.
Shafallah Centre and Al Noor Institute for Blind are the main centres here, in this area of education. The latter has made attempts at setting up inclusion rooms in a few schools.  The biggest problem here is that these cater to Arabic-speaking children alone, when between 30-40% of the population comprises non-Arabic speaking expatriates.
Some of the international schools do have provisions for students with learning disabilities, but a more wholistic approach to inclusion is missing.