Last week witnessed the launch of the “Global Strategy on Inclusive Education” by ALA student Edward Ndopu of South Africa. Edward, who lives with a disability and must use a wheelchair for mobility, wants to see more educational opportunities made available to children living with disabilities in developing countries, children who today rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to attend mainstream schools.
Edward’s message has resonated far and wide. Edward spoke at the World Economic Forum held in Cape Town in June, 2009. He has spoken with a local radio station in Johanesburg about GSIE. Edward has been invited to take his message to the NMC World Youth Meeting for a Sustainable Future in Bari, Italy in January. The meeting is in collaboration between Inter-American Development Bank, ILO, UNESCO and UN-HABITAT among others.
You can watch the powerful speech that Edward gave at the launch.
The following is the transcript of the speech Edward gave at the launch of GSIE:
Following my participation at the World Economic Forum on Africa in June 2009, the press described me as “a remarkable young man [who is] severely disabled and confined to a wheelchair.”
In this regard, let me make an emphatic point of correction. (1) I am not disabled; I live with a disability. The former defines me by my limitations whereas the latter defines me in spite of my limitations. (2) I am not confined to a wheelchair; I use a wheelchair for mobility. The former suggests that I have been imprisoned to a life of misery on “wheels” whereas the latter confirms that my “wheels” have in actual fact given me a life of relative independence. And (3), it is crucial to make these corrections, for they go beyond the semantics of political correctness. These corrections are made in order to tell a different story from the one we’re used to — a story of a world in which the content of one’s character supersedes that of one’s physical appearance.
My story is this…
My name is Edward Ndopu. Today, I extend my hand in encouragement. I want to invite you to join me and all of my fellow organizers on a journey for the reclamation and reformation of education.
All my life I have seen the limits of human expectation. At the age of two I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. My doctors predicted that I would not survive past the age of five. Today, fourteen years past that dreaded date, I am happy to think that they were wrong. Similarly, my first foray into mainstream education was surrounded by general scepticism about the likelihood of my success. Today, in the twilight of my high school years, I can say with confidence that enrolling in mainstream education meant for me a paradigm shift in self-perception. Not only have I managed to excel academically beyond all expectation but I have also found for myself equality in every sense of the word.
While I have found access for myself I remain pained by the constant remembrance of children living with disabilities in developing countries — 98% of whom have absolutely no access to education. I remain permanently perturbed by the monstrous and irresponsible collective neglect of the world’s 650 million people living with disabilities. Not only are they denied proper access to information they are consequently excluded from a multitude of social and economic opportunities.
It is in the hope of cleansing the fabric of human society from the shameful stain of this condition that I speak before you today. Together with a dedicated team of advocates I have launched an initiative we are calling the Global Strategy on Inclusive Education. Envisioned and actualized by students who have a first-hand appreciation for the value of inclusive education, GSIE is a comprehensive campaign for policy reform and implementation.
GSIE targets and empowers the individual. In light of this, it is our hope that once you have been informed, you will feel compelled to act.
GSIE is designed to aid policy-makers in the education sector with institutionalizing inclusiveness by making diversity imperative to the core of all education systems. GSIE’s three pillars — Mobilization, Implementation and Transformation will aim to provide policy-makers with sufficient groundwork for legislative reform in the sector.
I invite you today to come and stand with me on the front lines. The front lines of change, the front lines of hope, the front lines of dignity. Together we will tackle the plight of children with disabilities so that they can grow up to be intelligent, bold, compassionate and visionary adults with the courage to do what is right. Together we will ensure that children with disabilities are heard and seen in the classroom. Together we will fight the battles that need to be fought along with those who only now have a chance to fight them.
Mark my words, GSIE will be at the forefront of every single country’s educational agenda within the next 10 years. This will prompt school districts in developing countries to prioritise inclusive education at the forefront of their enrolment criterion within the next 20 years. It starts right now…If you didn’t know…Now you know…Heed the Call to Action.