By Senator Dr Gertrude Musuruve Inimah, Kenya Parliament, representing persons with disabilities, and co-chair of the International Parliamentary Network for Education
Inclusion, the theme of the Global Education Monitoring Report 2020, is another way of saying ‘Education for all’. Both the connotative and inferential meaning of this theme is that education is mandatory and a right for everyone and no child should be denied of it because of race, gender, abilities or socio-economic background. It is also the principle that I have dedicated my life to achieving as a teacher, university lecturer and author of books on sign language for learners and teachers guides. My latest book, my autobiography, which is yet to be published, titled: From Cancer to Disability to Parliament, is a tale that depicts that, whatever one goes through, education is a social, political and economic game changer. Acquiring a disability as a result of cancer treatment did not stop me from reaching out to the world to encourage, mentor and be there for those who might be going through the challenges and pains I went through.
As a Senator in the Parliament of Kenya, representing persons with disabilities, I have always legislated on inclusion of persons with disabilities in education and the world of work. I have lived in both worlds and I am alive to the discrimination and exclusion that people with disabilities face. I experience societal discrimination as well, despite the fact that I am a parliamentarian.
Parliamentarians in partnership to deliver the promise of SDG 4
It is important to deepen parliamentarians’ understanding of the importance of leaving no one behind. Growing and deepening political understanding of, and commitment to, inclusive and equitable quality education for all will accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4. Parliamentarians help create policies and laws that could make the promise of SDG 4 achievable after all.
I became founding Co-Chair of the International Parliamentary Network for Education (IPNEd), the first global parliamentary network dedicated to education launched in September 2020, because I believe in its vision, mission and the objectives it has with regard to achieving parity in education among all children regardless of their background. It brings together parliamentarians, civil society, scholars and like-minded people across the globe. The Network has active members in 35 parliaments from across 6 continents.
As a co-chair of IPNEd, I endeavour to work with my distinguished co-chair, Hon Harriet Baldwin, together with the entire IPNEd team and like-minded organizations, to deliver the promise of leaving no child behind. We must all be alive to the glaring truth that education cannot wait and we must be counted as a generation that has made a whole lot of difference in the life of children with disabilities and other marginalized children.
Education lights every stage of the journey to a better life
Having been raised in a low socio-economic background, I experienced a bout of challenges as a student. I walked about 10 kilometres to school, while most of my classmates took a van, school bus or were dropped at school. I ate a banana for lunch or food remains from home while most of my peers ate school lunch and bought snacks in the school cafeteria. My parents could not afford to pay for the bus or meals but they were very encouraging. They are the reason I worked hard in education. They constantly reminded me that through education my future will be bright. When I was pregnant before going to college, my parents did not condemn me. They took care of my baby while I pursued with my studies to become a teacher.
As soon as I finished my college, I was able to take care of my daughter and support my parents. The first project I ever did in life when I finished college and started working was planting tea leaves for my parents so that they could have a monthly income in their old age. I was able to help them have a permanent house, electricity and water. I take care of my widowed mother and other widows in my community on a monthly basis. I use my own resources to support girls’ and boys’ education in my community who go through what I went through when growing up because I am alive to the fact that education lights every stage to a better future.
In my early career as a teacher I taught a range of students and saw the clear gaps in learning that Deaf learners experienced due to the linguistic challenges many experienced. I decided to study special education and linguistics in 1998-2003 to address the pedagogical gaps. While I was studying my Masters, I authored several books and instructional materials that would help Deaf learners in Kenya learn English. In 2013, when I was in the middle of my doctoral studies, I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that necessitated going through a radical limb saving surgery that saw me lose half of my femur bone and part of my pelvis. I was fitted with a hemi pelvic prosthesis to help my mobility. I thank God for giving me a second chance to be alive and fight for inclusion, mainstreaming and equal opportunities for people with disabilities as well as being a mentor and source of inspiration for cancer survivors. Even before I got a disability, I had interacted with people with disabilities, I knew the challenges they went through. It gives me pleasure championing for their inclusion socially, economically and politically. It gratifies my heart.
Disability intersects with other characteristics to exacerbate exclusion from education
When disability intersects with other characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and poverty children with disabilities fall even further behind. The 2020 Gender Report, which builds on the 2020 GEM Report, highlights that girls with disabilities are the most likely to face the most extreme forms of exclusion in education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has erected new barriers to the challenge. The 2020 GEM Report found that around 40% of low and lower-middle income countries did not support learners at risk of exclusion during school closures. As a result, children’s marginalization has intensified. Despite states throughout the world ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which enshrines the right to inclusive education, many governments are yet to establish and effect this principle in their laws, policies and practices.
Legislation offers a route to inclusion
Only 68% of countries have a definition of inclusive education in their laws and policies. Parliamentarians have the platform to legislate on inclusive education and ensure that governments are responsive to ensuring that no child is left out.
In our Parliament, I sponsored the Kenyan Sign Language Bill, which is progressing well to becoming law and will provide for the use of sign language in schools. I am sponsoring three other bills that seek to improve the rights of children, youth and adults with disabilities.
Around the world, IPNEd is connecting and will continue to connect with parliamentarians to similarly press for greater inclusion and investment in education. The COVID-19 emergency has given new urgency to this mission. We must act now to prevent a lost generation of learners. I urge my fellow parliamentarians to join us by affirming IPNEd’s Declaration so that we can work together, across geographical and political divides, to ensure that no child is denied their right to quality education.