The collective attitude towards children with disabilities needs to change in Bangladeshi society to help and support them in becoming contributing citizens, speakers said on Tuesday.
Discussing several issues regarding disabilities at a round-table discussion titled “Children with disabilities in mainstream schools: Partaking by stakeholders,” experts and activists also agreed that special and focused care must be given to children with disabilities as soon as they are born, because the sooner they get the care they need, the better equipped they will be in order to assimilate into the society.
“Children with disabilities face a negative attitude not only from the society and its institutions, but even from their family members. We have to change this negative attitude so their latent talents can be flourished,” said Ranjan Karmaker, chairperson of the Society for Education and Inclusion of the Disabled (SEID), who moderated the discussion.
The event, organised by the SEID in cooperation with HSBC Bangladesh and the Dhaka Tribune, was held at the conference hall of the Dhaka Tribune.
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Speakers at a round-table discussion titled 'Children with disabilities in mainstream schools: Partaking by stakeholders' in Dhaka on December 6, 2016 Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
Mahbub-ur Rahman, deputy CEO of HSBC Bangladesh, said increasing mass awareness regarding disabilities was a must-do.
“These children live with their disabilities all their lives. So tackling the problems that make their lives difficult needs everyone's participation,” he said. “Friendly atmosphere and relationships will help these children flourish.”
“There are many challenges that prevent children with special needs from enrolling in mainstream schools, ultimately hampering their education,” said Khairul Islam, development worker at ActionAid Bangladesh.
Early screening to identify children with disabilities and the type and nature of their disabilities, early child care development, therapeutic support in pre-primary stage of education and accessible learning method are compulsory to overcome these challenges, he said.
Dr Sharmin Haq, professor at Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University, added to that.
“Children with special needs require a unique curriculum for their education which is flexible,” she said. “Also, if at least one teacher is provided with the training on special education in every district of the country, the problem can be easily addressed.”
Teachers in mainstream schools also must change their attitude towards children with disabilities and become more accepting, she said.
Prof Salma Begum, project director at National Academy for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, said: “The problem we face is identifying children with disabilities. If we cannot prepare a child with disability from its 2-7 years of age through early intervention, it will be more difficult for the child to grow up and reach its full potential.”
Dr Khondaker Abdullah Al Mamun, associate professor at the department of computer science and engineering in United International University, said specialised technologies can play an important role in the development of behaviour and attitude of children with disabilities and help them get into mainstream schools, as seen in many countries.
“There are simple mobile applications that can help these children communicate with others,” he added.
Khurshid A Chowdhury, director general of National Foundation for Development of the Disabled Persons, said collaboration between the government and the non-government agencies is required to overcome the challenges.
Badsha Mia, assistant director at the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, said the government aimed at achieving 100% enrolment of children in schools, which meant no children would be left behind.
Laila Karim, advocacy manager at Save the Children Bangladesh, said the government should formulate a guideline for everyone to learn how to act with and around children with disabilities.
“We need to understand this issue first in order to find the solutions,” she added.
Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan thanked all the speakers for participating in the discussion.
“This is not only the children's [with disabilities] problem, but also everyone's problem. We stand beside them and hope to arrange more awareness building programmes,” he said.