Children with dis/abilities in Namibia, Africa: uncovering the complexities of exclusion

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Children with dis/abilities the world over are widely required to sacrifice their human rights to education, equity, community, and inclusion. Fewer than 10% of children with dis/abilities in developing countries

Children with dis/abilities the world over are widely required to sacrifice their human rights to education, equity, community, and inclusion. Fewer than 10% of children with dis/abilities in developing countries attend school. Namibia, Africa, where this study took place, is no different. Despite Namibia's adoption of international covenants and educational policy initiatives, children with dis/abilities continue to be overwhelmingly excluded from school. The body of literature on exclusion in sub-Saharan Africa is laden with the voices of teachers, principals, government education officials, development organizations, and scholars. This study attempted to foreground the voices of rural Namibian families of children with dis/abilities as they described their lived experiences via phenomenological interviews. Their stories uncovered deeply held assumptions, or cultural models, about dis/abilities. Furthermore, the study examined how policy was appropriated by local actors as mediated by their shared cultural models. Ideas that had been so deeply internalized about dis/abilities emerged from the data that served to illustrate how othering, familial obligation, child protection, supernatural forces, and notions of dis/ability intersect to continue to deny children with dis/abilities full access to educational opportunities. Additionally, the study describes how these cultural models influenced cognition and actions of parents as they appropriated local educational policy vis-à-vis creation and implementation; thereby, leaving authorized education policy for children with dis/abilities essentially obsolete. The top down ways of researching by international organizations and local agencies plus the authorized policy implementation continued to contribute to the perpetuation of exclusion. This study uncovered a need to apply bottom up methods of understanding what parents and children with dis/abilities desire and find reasonable for education, as well as understanding the power parents wield in local policy appropriation.