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Conference Title: Education for Global Citizenship: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Together.”

Round table topic: “The Right to Accessible, Safe and Inclusive Learning Spaces”

Presented on September 24th 2016 at the post-conference held at the UN Headquarter New York, USA.

Introduction: I am privileged to be on this roundtable to share my perspective on the title. It is particularly exciting for me because of my desire to have a voice not only as a young person but one who identifies with a vulnerable group or rather several marginalised communities. Whilst preparing my presentation, I was caught in between having to present one with rigid theories and suggesting best practices which, sometimes I do not believe in. Finally I decided to have in my presentation, compelling story of lived realities.

We are here today to discuss accessible, safe and inclusive learning spaces. I have deliberately dropped out the “right” aspect, not that I do not consider it as a fundamental right to be educated but thought it might be more simplified to address the topic. Thus, I have put it in the parking lot and will discuss it later in my presentation.

Furthermore, I will attempt separating the “Accessible”, the “Safe” and the “inclusive learning spaces”.

Now on the “Accessible”:
From my point of view, accessible education is determined by different factors and here I will highlight only two:

Poverty is one of them
. Let’s relate this to the Sustainable Development Goals 4 that states and I quote “ ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. I was born in a country where quality education is far fetched. Being born at the tail end of the 1980s, the educational sector in my country had started being revolutionised and more entrepreneurs were becoming more interested in setting up private schools as a means of addressing the dilapidating situations in government (public) schools. My parents could afford my brothers and me private education and I tell you that, sadly my education from nursery to university education was in private schools. This was not because my parents were super rich but as educated people themselves, they appreciated quality education and recognised the impact that would have in the future of a child. I am privileged to have such parents. As time went by, private education in my country became more and more expensive. At some point the demand for this type of education was balanced with the supply but the demand soon went higher than the supply. This situation resulted in more private schools with lesser quality for cheaper tuition in order to meet up with the competitive market. What used to be an avenue for quality education i.e. private schooling; now began to suffer from demand tension, hence decrease in quality. Now, it is as hard getting quality education in private school just as it is difficult in public schools.

As someone who has lived this reality, a major problem I observe is the quality of state policies on education. It is important to have state parties prioritising their respective educational sector, as this is a determinant of their country’s future. The younger generation grows quite fast to take over the affairs of the country- at least in the ideal situation- and they require the requisite capacity to lead that country into sustainable development. The capacity required is acquired by no other means than education- a good quality one. Our future as young people should not be determined by how rich or poor the family we are born into. The land into which we are born and for which we shall live should guarantee our future. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that its young people have not just access to education but enjoy a high quality one.

I am speaking out today as a young person who desires a better world for him and that of the younger generation. I desire a world with zero poverty. Poverty worsens low quality education, it hinders accessibility and invariably jeopardises sustainable development.

This is a UN conference and I think we should also be talking about state duties and responsibilities alongside our rights as citizens. Conferences like this should not be to polarise the discussion but facilitate transnational networks.

My second point on accessible education is “Language”. I thought of language in the context of global citizenship. In 2016, inter- nationalisation of education is important for global citizenship. Some scholars have attempted education for global citizenship. As mentioned by Delors (2006), “education for global citizenship is about learning to live together sustainably”. One way to facilitate sustainable living together is communication and what is communication without overcoming language barriers. While I am not talking about the promotion of one language over the other, I will elaborate the need for information to be disseminated evenly across the world. There is need for the international community to work in ensuring that strategic information is available in different languages to enable accessibility by all. As an English speaking person, I would say that I am privileged. There are limited spaces for non-English speaking people, for instance. I respect that people should not be compelled to speak a language different from their mother tongue. But, I will encourage the international community including the Civil Society to endeavour translations- to widen the audience requiring information. This concern has inspired the organisation I represent here- the RenfoCap Centre. We are considering engaging in information dissemination through the translation means. Part of this activity will be to research for educational materials in English which, are not available in other languages and facilitate their translations into other languages. This will facilitate an equitable access to information. This, for us, is a pathway to ensure sustainable development. Inter-nationalisation is an important strategy towards global citizenship and invariably sustainable development. As mentioned by Haigh (2014), Inter-nationalisation leads to global citizenship. Inter-nationalisation in higher education was argued in his article “from internationalisation to education for globalisation: a multi-layed history.” My argument about the importance of language as an enabling factor in accessing education is the liberty it ensures in participating in different learning spaces and the ability to think as a citizen of the world. In the quest to achieving sustainable development, the international community should aim at a significant percentage of the world population capable of communicating in more than one language by 2030.

Now to safe learning spaces;
Ensuring a safe environment in all educational setting is important to learning. Whether it is in a formal or non-formal setting, the feeling of being safe in a learning space provides the learner the confidence to learn without fear.

I hereby invite to watch this video on LGBT Bullying in Japan.

I appreciate this report by HRW and this situation is not only typical to Japan but also a reality in other many countries across the world. The situation in countries where homosexuality is illegal could be even worse. Many young LGBT persons have been forced to drop out of school just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. I know of a Nigerian transgender woman who dropped out of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife in Nigeria because she was different and persistently subjected to bullying. She dropped out and after several years, she fled to a European country where she was able to access medical provisions necessary and relevant to her gender identity. An unsafe learning space has an adverse impact on a child and invariably has a negative effect on the country. Sustainable development cannot be guaranteed if learning spaces remain unsafe. Every learning space should be safe and accessible to everyone without reservations.

Inclusive learning is an important aspect of this discussion.
The concept of leaving no one behind can never be overly emphasised. Several groups are consistently being marginalised in the educational sector. The international community should aim at increasing access to education- particularly to children with special needs. For instance autistic children and those with down syndromes among others, require special education because of the peculiar learning difficulties. There is a pressing need for teachers specialised in teaching children with special needs. Capacity stregthening trainings for teachers is very important. State government and civil society organisations should engage more in the educational sector to strengthen their capacity in responding to special needs such as those with learning difficulties and others that are sexually and gender non-conforming.

Comprehensive sexuality education is paramount! This should be reflective in the teaching curricula. Heteronormativity and patriarchy must be demystified. Young people should have accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health and should be readily informed of the associated rights.

Ahead of this conference, I was speaking with a parent of a child with Down Syndromes and here is what she said to me.
“We are yet to have full understanding of the human rights and needs of children with special needs. I hear there are special schools in Abuja (Nigerian State Capital) but how does a child in Minna (150km from Abuja) access that? Even if they had boarding facilities, how does a parent drop a minor in a dormitory? […] I should add that even where a child possesses a gift that should have been harnessed and developed, a parent goes through the pain of watching that waste away because there are no specialists or professionals that work in this field. Most children with special needs are gifted in one thing or the other. If this can be harnessed they can earn from it and not depend on anyone and that would put them in a position to contribute to the country but no school for them to be discovered. Example is the hyper elasticity in Adel he could earn [a living] by performing if he is trained but how would that be possible? I have a lesson teacher for academics but have not got one for gymnastics or marshal arts and music and those are his strong areas.”

To conclude, while I agree that it is a right- fundamental at that- to enjoy accessible, safe and inclusive learning space, it is important to remind ourselves that it is also the duty of the state to provide a favourable environment for this to be possible.

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