State schools are not yet ready to accommodate all children with disabilities and many families are still waiting for the education ministry to decide whether their child will be allowed to go into the classroom, organised parents said on Tuesday.
A day after primary students went back to school, many children with disabilities are still waiting for a decision on their future despite protests last year, meetings with MPs and state officials, and reassurances, the head of the Pancyprian Alliance for Disability (Kysoa) Yioula Pitsiali said.
Pitsiali said many families are in despair as they don’t know what else to do to “secure their child a chance to make friends, feel equal, a member of the school, and an opportunity to learn”.
A year ago, Pitsiali said, the group staged a protest outside the education ministry and met MPs and education ministry officials. “We were promised solutions… and a reform of the education policy […] they reassured us that they recognise the right of our children to equal access to education,” Pitsiali said.
In addition, she said, reports and opinions of the ombudswoman and the children’s rights commissioner have validated Kysoa’s demands, while many teachers have pointed out that children with disabilities are being treated unequally in state schools.
However, Pitsiali said, the new school year finds disabled children and their parents still demanding equal treatment in education.
“Children with disabilities have still fewer opportunities. They are deemed incapable of being in a classroom with other children their age, a diagnosis that deprives them of the right of coexistence, the right to go to school,” Pitsiali said.
Pitsiali also said that each child must be evaluated on time so that it can be offered the necessary equipment in school, while all teachers must be trained on issues concerning disabilities to be able to address the needs of all of their students.
All students, she said, must also attend classes on diversity. She added that the teaching material and method should change to address all children, while activity programmes ought to be adjusted to allow the participation of children with disabilities.
Pitsiali called for an overhaul of the educational system to recognise the needs and abilities of each student with respect to his or her diversity and that would adjust to the needs of the children and not the opposite.
The education ministry however, denied that it is discriminating against disabled children by excluding them from the educational system. It said that it makes sure that all children have access to the school curriculum through special equipment such as computers, software programmes and Braille machines – while it has also introduced larger fonts in the reading books of all primary education grades to facilitate visually impaired children. It said that it is in the process of doing the same with Maths books.
The last few years, the ministry said, all teachers have been trained in the best teaching methods to respond to the needs of all children. It added that all school buildings are being made accessible to children with disabilities and provide wheelchairs or other walking assistance and other equipment.
It also said that it assists in the transfer of disabled children to school either by making arrangements for their transfer or providing monetary aid to their parents for doing so.
“Children with disabilities are equal members of the school and participate with their classmates in all school activities. In order to safeguard this right, the ministry of education subsidises the cost of providing special buses,” it said.
As for chaperones to escort children with disabilities in school, ministry figures show the numbers have been gradually increasing the last five years. Of the 622 chaperones employed in 2013 – 461 in primary and 161 in high schools – the number has risen to almost 800 in 2017 with 566 in primary and 227 in high schools.
The ministry said that it will soon launch a public consultation on the upgrade of services provided to disabled children.