In an internal report released this week, the Ministry of Education gave itself high marks for the access to education it offers disabled children, offering a rundown of successes in the field dotted with green checkmarks, not unlike a school report card.
However, though the ministry itself acknowledged room for improvement, observers yesterday were uncertain whether it appreciated just how much improvement was required, while also noting that 2014’s achievements still fell well short of what the Kingdom’s disabled children need.
According to Ngin Saorath, director of the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO), the report does not take into account the full scope and limitations of what it means to be a disabled child in the education system.
“We are not happy with [inclusive learning] yet,” he said. “If they are physically or slightly disabled, they can join the class, but most children with severe disability cannot go to public school.”
For children reliant on wheelchairs, only 10 per cent of schools have ramps or seated toilets, and most will drop out young because their school is too far away, Saorath said. He explained that most children with Down syndrome or developmental disabilities are also prohibited from learning.
“Most schools in Cambodia are not well equipped for students with disability,” Saorath concluded.
For Saroth and the CDPO, resources being centralised in Phnom Penh is another key issue, as most disabled and poor children live in outside provinces devoid of resources.
Chin Chanveasna, director of NEP Cambodia, confirmed that the program doesn’t have a nationwide scope, and progress happens “very, very slowly”.
“Of course, there is more to be done,” he said.
However, strides have been made. As of 2014, over 2,300 teachers have undergone a 20-hour course – implemented with the help of the Child’s Rights Foundation – intended to prepare educators to teach students with disabilities.
According to the ministry’s 2014 data, a total of more than 3,400 schools and over 70,000 students participate in the inclusive program, and nearly 12,000 textbooks in Braille and sign language have also been added to classrooms.
But the proliferation of new teaching techniques still runs up against old prejudices, said Erin Moriarty Harrelson, a Fulbright fellow studying deaf culture in Cambodia.
“There are current laws protecting people with disabilities,” she said. “The issues are awareness and discrimination, such as thinking deaf people are stupid, [as well as] the enforcement of these laws.”