Inclusion Now 61

PROFILE: Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo, World Bank Global Disability Advisor

Q&A with Questions by ALLFIE Director, Michelle Daley

Charlotte McClain Nhlapo portrait, smiling at camera

1. Tell us about yourself and what led you into your field of interest?

I am a Black Woman with a disability; I identify as African-American. I use a wheelchair due to having been involved in a car crash that left me paralyzed from the waist down. I am also an omnivert. I relish my introverted self and similarly love people. I was born in the tiny African Kingdom of Eswatini; I grew up in Zambia, Lesotho, and went to High School in Eswatini- very much third culture. My father is a white American from Indiana, my mother is Black, and Xhosa from South Africa. This factoid is relevant because my parents were active anti-apartheid activists, and I grew up understanding the hideousness of apartheid as an unjust and vicious system of oppression. I felt the consequences of segregation and racism brought on by the apartheid state. For example, my parents could not travel together in South Africa because of the colour of their skin; there was a law called the Immorality Act that made it a crime for interracial couples to be together. And then, of Charlotte in actioncourse, my mixed siblings and I would be classified as coloured- so no, we never went to South Africa as a family. I only really went there just before the democratic elections. Growing up I spent most summers visiting my family in Indiana, Montana, and Germany.

I would have to concede and say the experience of growing up in a highly politicized environment, with a father who was a law professor, shaped my interest in studying law. I knew that I wanted to fight against the discrimination and inequality the majority of South Africans experienced every day because they were Black. I saw the law as a tool for social change. So I went on to study public international law, and focused on the law of the sea and then human rights law. Having a background in human rights law provided me with a solid intellectual basis for the work I went on to do.

I started as a senior legal researcher working on the South African constitution, focused on children’s rights. I then went on to work in the Mandela Administration, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the South African Human Rights Commission as a Commissioner, and the World Bank. I also served in the Obama Administration at U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as the Senior Coordinator for Disability Inclusive Development. After that assignment, I returned to the World Bank to the position I currently hold as Global Disability Advisor. It is clear to me that my early exposure to racism and inequality influenced my life’s work for social justice and equality for all. Over the years, my choice of study and jobs/positions fundamentally sought to ensure equal access to services, amplify voice and participation of marginalized groups and change social norms that impede equality for all.

2. What are your views about how segregated education shapes societal behaviours?

I depart from the premise that education is not exclusively about your educational achievement, but also very much about building cohesive societies and communities. It’s where we learn to be social and how diverse we are as a people. Segregated education, by definition, separates people. It calcifies this notion of them and us, and usually has an underlying dominance built into it as a system. For example, South Africa’s Apartheid system created racial inequalities by introducing race classification for schools. Policies and funding disparities underpinned the four racial classifications of the education system.

Similarly, segregated education was also in place in the United States until the seminal Supreme Court Case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. These segregated systems used education as a tool to subjugate populations and dictate what they learn and how they learn. They were by design unequal; the Young people of SOWETO recognised this ploy, and fought gallantly to bring down Bantu Education which was segregated, inferior, and premised on racial superiority.

I mention this because I see remarkable similarities with segregated education for children with disabilities. During the Apartheid years, Black children with disabilities were in separate schools based on their race and disability. These schools were typically underfunded, did not use the same curriculum as the ‘regular’ schools, and were often very far away from their communities, which meant children were separated from their families for long stretches of time. In my opinion, the system buttresses the misperception that persons with disabilities are different, incapable, and not part of the mainstream of society. These systems and the beliefs espoused in segregated settings influence how we interact with each other, establish bonds, networks, social capital, and educational achievement. They create a parallel system that is often inferior and more costly. But ultimately, for me, I believe that segregated education systems feed inequality and foster exclusion. By way of example, let me say that children with disabilities during the Apartheid years were typically excluded from regular education services. However, white children with disabilities had a lot more access to special schools. Their education was free, they benefitted from specialised rehabilitative services and had more access to resources that were determined based on being white. This was bolstered by the Special Schools Act, that essentially codified exclusionary practices in the education of children with disabilities. As a result, Black children with disabilities were more likely not to be in school.  If in school, the schools were underfunded and students had to pay fees. Black children were also less likely to access health care services, and this was so much worse for children who did not live in the townships set up to service the whiteness of urban South African cities. Many of the schools specifically for children who were blind or deaf were established by religious groups and charities.

What is also important to note is that the disability movement in South Africa pre-1994 was also divided along racial lines, with the white disability organisations mainly focused on access to services, while the Black organizations like Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) were more geared to fighting for voice, representation and advocated for equality before the law for all Disabled South Africans.

Today, White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education seeks to build an inclusive education system. However, discriminatory practices remain a reality for children with disabilities, white and Black, and progress towards inclusion is timid at best.

3. Why is inclusive education important for human rights?

  1. First, I think inclusive systems that address the particular needs of children with disabilities provide a better quality education for all children, and are instrumental in changing discriminatory attitudes. They also enable siblings to go to school together in their communities, and be part of the broader community.
  2. Second, we know that human rights are interlinked and interdependent. The right to education is linked to a host of other rights, like access to health care services in school, in many places, nutrition, and opens the way for every child to reach their best potential. Without inclusive and equitable education for all, we risk not achieving the world’s goals of gender equality, and would likely mean we perpetuate exclusion and discrimination. Ensuring every child has access to an inclusive and equitable education contributes to breaking the cycle of poverty and leaving no one behind.
  3. Third, inclusive education is boldly written into Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD states that States parties must ensure the realization of the right of persons with disabilities to education through an inclusive education system at all levels, including preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary education, vocational training and lifelong learning, extracurricular and social activities, and for all students, including persons with disabilities, without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. 184 State Parties have ratified the CRPD. In addition, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 affirms the value of inclusive, quality, and equitable education. Both the CRPD and SDG 4 recognize that inclusive education is central to achieving high-quality education for all learners, including those with disabilities, and developing inclusive, peaceful, and fair societies. However, for inclusive education to be equitable, it does mean ensuring that teaching and the curriculum, school buildings, classrooms, playgrounds, schools transport, and toilets are accessible and appropriate for all children. The delivery of the curriculum also must be inclusive. I conclude with a point that there is an educational, social, and economic case to support inclusive education.

    4. What is the best part of your job?

    That’s a difficult question because I enjoy so many different aspects of my job. For example, I relish the opportunities of meeting new people and thought leaders working on some of the most challenging aspects of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. In addition, due to the global nature of my work, and I should note before COVID-19, I travelled a lot for work and was constantly learning about different cultures and stakeholders. But ultimately, what I treasure most and what motivates me to keep doing what I do- is that the World Bank work can and does influence change. For example, it might be that the technical assistance provides expert support to a country that then goes on to ratify the CRPD, influencing policy direction or providing support to governments to advance disability inclusion. Given my remit, I work across most sectors, and that is both energising and comes with a steep learning curve. Knowing that I can contribute to addressing exclusion and non-discrimination is the best part of what I do.

    5. What is the World Bank currently doing to advance the inclusive education of Disabled children and Young people in mainstream settings (also what work is being done in the UK)?

    There is quite a bit going on at the Bank around inclusive education. For example, the Bank made ten ambitious commitments at the first Global Disability Summit in London in 2018. The Education commitment was to ensure that all our education investment lending projects are disability-inclusive by 2025. To support this work, I manage the Inclusive Education Initiative [], a Multi-Donor Trust Fund (supported by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office [FCDO] and Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation [Norad]), which aims to improve the educational participation and learning outcomes of children with disabilities. To achieve this, the Inclusive Education Initiative focuses on enhancing stakeholder capacity and service delivery at the country level, improving coordination, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, and investing in innovative and catalytic interventions via three pillars:

  •  Pillar 1: In-Country Interventions invests in resources towards interventions in Nepal, Rwanda, and Ethiopia for systems change and strengthening to realize inclusive education and support the educational achievement of students with disabilities. The country-based financing ensures attention to both supply and demand side of the ecosystem.
  • Pillar 2: Global Public Goods collates, disseminates, and coordinates evidence and resources to provide a quality assured global knowledge bank on inclusive education. Under this pillar, IEI supports:
  1. Global and regional communities of practice on the multifaceted elements of an inclusive education system.
  2. Identifies knowledge gaps and commissions research.
  3. Has built a dedicated knowledge hub [] that serves as a knowledge repository, blogging platform, networking tool, and source of new partnerships.

Some high-impact global public goods from IEI includes Issues Paper Pivoting to Inclusion-Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 Crisis for Learners with Disabilities, Learners with Disability and COVID-19 School Closures [] – Survey Report, upcoming Landscape review of ICT for disability-inclusive education and the Study on Disability, Gender, and Education.

  • Finally, Pillar 3: Innovation Funding has offered grants to World Bank country teams and external recipients to test and scale innovative interventions that address complex challenges, underserved populations such as children with intellectual or learning disabilities, or in high risk contexts through innovations with potential for catalytic impact and scale. And currently, we have 11 grants awards, supporting projects across six regions in 11 countries – for example in Indonesia, we are supporting an online pilot on disability identification and continuous learning support for children with disabilities. Please check out our website for more information.  No, we do not support the UK.

    6. What are the challenges of advancing inclusive education globally?

There are quite a few. One of the main challenges is operationalising inclusive education as enshrined in the CRPD and SDG4. There remains much discussion around how we define Inclusive Education. In my view the parameters have been set out in Article 24 of the CRPD. And we should be focused on operationalising this article. To do that, we need more trained teachers, more inclusive school curricula, and learning materials that support inclusive education. We also need to work with parents, and other stakeholders to see the value of inclusive education and, most importantly, ensure the child’s best interest. Another challenge is that the current systems are often not working for children with disabilities, leading to the proliferation of segregated schools in many countries. Inclusive education settings that do not address the needs of learners with disabilities make it difficult to advance inclusive education. A huge challenge is ensuring that funds are in place to support education systems to be more inclusive. To effect impact, we will require transformational changes to the education system to make it truly inclusive, equitable, and of good quality. We also need to work together – to share information, analysis and collect more robust disaggregated data.

While there has been some progress, we must keep making the case for inclusive education. This cannot be done by one group or by an organization alone; it requires that we continue to build a global coalition to operationalize inclusive education and ensure that no child is left behind.

7. How do you see the future?

Globally, there is a lot more knowledge and a suite of good practices about inclusive education even if the debate on how to define it persists in some quarters. We now have frameworks like the CRPD, we have the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals [SDGs] [] and increasing domestic laws that require all children access an education, often with supporting policies on inclusive education. But we need to do better, we must collect better data to make more informed decision and that’s why including disability in the Education Management Information Systems is so important. It is clear to me that going forward we need to invest more in country implementation, including support for teachers, empowering parents and ensuring that there is financing in place to make this happen. In my opinion, this requires taking a multisectoral approach to inclusive education. It necessitates that we all stay engaged, develop strong and evidence based policies, continue to advocate for inclusion and listen to the voices of children with disabilities themselves.

More from Charlotte:

 TEDx presentation

Blogs related to inclusive education: