Admit it. You were in high school once, with THAT teacher. You definitely thought about it. The brave amongst us did it: they played hooky. They ditched school. For no reason. This is often celebrated as a “rite of passage” for most budding young adults. My high school even had a day set aside where all the members of the senior class were expected to ditch. You may have grown up celebrating the likes of Ferris Bueller, star of the classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, centered on his day of truancy.
Perhaps part of the thrill of intentionally skipping school is a result of America’s compulsory education. In 1852 Massachusetts became the first state to enact a compulsory education law that required every city and town to offer primary school. Mississippi was the last state to pass such a law in 1917, but compulsory schooling is considered the norm here in America. And there is something in the human spirit that desires to rebel against all things mandatory or compulsory.
It is because of this that we often forget what a privilege our compulsory education is. Where we have the choice as to whether we will attend or not, others are not even afforded the choice to go to school. While there are many staggering statistics about developing nations and the lack of financial resources to provide for education, there is another reason why so many students are absent.
According to the Global Partnership for Education, between 93 million and 150 million children are estimated to live with disabilities (EFA GMR 2015) and as much as 90% of those children do not go to school. From difficulty with vision to learning or communication disabilities, these students are missing from the roll call. The biggest part of the problem: their absences go unnoticed. They are systematically overlooked in humanitarian action and become even more marginalized as fewer resources are available in the midst of an emergency. And even when these children physically make it to school, they are often left out of education sector plans due to poor data collection and a lack of knowledge on how to include them in educational planning and implementation. This often happens because the curriculum has not been adapted to their needs or teachers do not have the capacity or time to make the needed adaptations.
Benjamin Franklin said “an investment in knowledge always pays the most interest.” In our American schools, we struggle with students wanting to make that investment. We all suffered through that one class we did not want to take, or may have complained a time or two. On the other side, many who have children with disabilities have every desire to make that investment, and are unable to reap the benefits.
Perhaps the best thing we can do individually is to begin appreciating the mandatory and compulsory in our Western lives, because there are those living where education is a privilege for the few. Celebrate that corrective lenses are available to so many here in the states, and that in the last 50 years our school curriculums have started to include those with different learning styles.
The Global Partnership for Education is one of the many groups that are working hard to make this a reality across the globe. They are working alongside governments to promote inclusive education policies to ensure that all children are not only attending school, but are also excelling. They are also pushing for better quality data on children with disabilities that will be imperative for effective planning in the future.
One day, even students with disabilities will be able to accumulate interest on their investment in knowledge and in school. Let us be a world that makes sure that truly no student is ever left behind.