In this changing world partnership among stakeholders should be seen as the key point towards making Inclusive Education a reality, it cannot succeed without the participation of all stakeholders both in policy making and implementation. It is time both parents of disabled children and their representative organisations learn that they have a say in how education should be provided to children with disabilities. Policy makers and professionals need to listen to the people they serve if they are to improve their services to meet the needs of the people. Equal partnership with stakeholders is a vital step in this process.
In 1993, the Ministry of Education started to involve parents in the planning of the implementation of the "Inclusive Education" policy in Lesotho. Parents did not understand what was required of them, they felt inferior and did not understand the role they had to play in the implementation of the policy. Persistence of the professionals involved at that time helped the parents to realise their role. Then with the help of their organisation "Lesotho Society of Mentally Handicapped Persons" (LSMHP) parents started to assess themselves and realised that they needed to understand clearly the issue of rights first so that they could contribute effectively. Their contributions are now remarkable and appreciated by the Ministry.
My name is Palesa Mphohle from Lesotho. I'm a mother of a 13yr old boy with intellectual disability.
My presentation today is going to be on how parents of children with disabilities in Lesotho contribute to Inclusive Education. I will first give a brief background of my organisation that represents parents. The organisation is Lesotho Society of Mentally Handicapped Persons (LSMHP).
LSMHP was founded by parents of children with Intellectual disability in 1992 who later were joined by parents of children with other disabilities. The main aim of the organisation is to advocate for inclusive services for people with intellectual disability as well as children with disabilities in general. LSMHP now has 13 branches in 7 out of 10 districts and has approximately 700 members.
When LSMHP was founded there was already a national policy of integrated education in Lesotho. The Ministry of Education had started a pilot project in ten schools, one in each of the ten districts. However, the project was limited to the ten schools and the parents decided not to wait for the results of the pilot, but to take action themselves to promote the development of the inclusive practices.
Fortunately the Ministry of Education involved the parents from the beginning by inviting them to their meetings where they planned the implementation process of the policy. The parents, mostly mothers took it further to campaign tirelessly for their children to be included in their local schools and in their communities. Now LSMSHP has managed to influence the expansion of the programme into the areas where it has established branches by informing teachers about the programme.
UNDERSTANDING OF RIGHTS
In the process the parents realised their need to learn more about rights of their children and they discovered that they could only learn this by collaborating with other organisations with similar interest. Therefore they invited the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of Disabled to conduct a series of workshops for parents. These focused on the issue of understanding disability and rights and relating them to the existing practices.
LSMHP parents were also fortunate to be part of the Parent Mobilisation Resource Group project that was aimed at facilitating development and information sharing among the organisations that were funded by Norwegian Association for People with Developmental Disabilities in Africa. From this forum the LSMHP parents learned more about mobilisation and advocacy especially when they were learning from organisation of similar background in terms of economy. They also learned that it is important to relate their national laws and policies with International Conventions and Declarations to which Lesotho is a signatory. They then felt that it was their role to scrutinise the formation and implementation of the laws and policies that affect their children.
PARENTS AS TRAINERS
LSMHP also realised the need to train some resource parents to be trainers of other parents. They were also trained in how to communicate effectively with professionals and policy makers. This training of resource parents was conducted by outside consultants with the financial support of Norwegian Association for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Each of the twelve branches of LSMHP was represented by a parent and a community worker (either a teacher or a village health worker). These 5 days workshop focussed on building confidence in parents and how not to feel intimidated by professions. Topics such as telling own stories, answering questions and leading discussion were addressed. On the last day of the workshop the participants had the opportunity to practice what they learned to different professional who were invited on that day using their relevant previous knowledge of disability issues. This workshop was followed by a series of other workshops in different branches. They were facilitated by the trained parents with the support of the community workers who attended the first workshop with them.
The results of the evaluation that followed these workshops indicated the increase in the membership, more children being included in the mainstream of education and improved relationship between parents and teachers. Where the teacher claims that he or she isn't trained to work with children with disability, parents tell him that they were also not trained in how to raise a child with disability but they are doing it. Therefore together with the teacher they can make it happen in the school.
The National Teachers Training College now trains teachers in the area of special education and they draw expertise from parents. The student teachers visit families with LSMHP. LSMHP organises community meetings and training workshops that are attended by community workers including teachers as well as chiefs. At these gatherings, parents use different methods such as role-play and singing to communicate their message on the rights of their children. .
In conclusion I would like to say that in this changing world partnership should be seen as a key point towards making Inclusive Education a reality. Inclusive Education cannot succeed without the participation of parents. Policy makers and professionals need to listen to parents and take them as partners.