This blogpost presents a poem that Basirat Razaq-Shuaib delivered at the 2023 UKFIET Conference. The poem draws attention to the non-prioritisation of children with disabilities in educational reform agendas.
Globally, various commitments have affirmed the inclusion of all children including those with disabilities and other marginalised groups in education, the most notable of them being the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030). While these proclamations have been adopted by different countries, limited progress has been recorded in the educational inclusion of children with disabilities. The lack of political will to effect the actions that will bring about significant changes at the ground level has been noted by many. Furthermore, policymakers are non-neutral in their agendas and actions which often reflect their own interests in the prioritisation of some changes over others. This was confirmed for instance, in a recent engagement with a high-level policymaker who after describing the positive reforms being witnessed in education was asked about the omission of children with disabilities from the reported progress. The policymaker noted, “We will come to them.”
This poem therefore calls attention to the negative implications of othering children with disabilities, their non-prioritisation in educational reform agendas and the continued notion of scarce resources all of which legitimise their current exclusion from education and reproduce inequalities in policies and practices. Written in a child’s voice, the poem challenges policymakers and practitioners to go beyond ‘symbolic inclusion’, seek creative solutions for the education of children with disabilities and ensure that beyond words every child has the same rights.
I AIN’T NO AFTERTHOUGHT
Born of a woman but not like every other,
I am one of those often described as the lesser.
Sometimes I’m also called disadvantaged,
Though I have potentials they are encaged.
I face so many walls so hard to scale,
My education is all but a haze.
Left on the side lines, considered an afterthought,
My spirit sinks seeing how my battles are being fought.
If only they can embrace my unique light
And provide me with opportunities to take flight.
They say they hear my voice and understand my plight.
They say they made laws that entrench my rights.
But all I hear is words, words and more words
About how every child has the same rights.
But of what rights we speak I really don’t know
Because rights as a word is just a homophone.
One that my brain finds rather confusing,
With too many meanings I find it amusing.
But if you mean the one that says all children are equal,
Then I’ll say from where I stand I beg to differ.
Because though you say that all children are equal,
It appears what you mean is some are more equal.
And even when you claim to take some action,
For your convenience you help some children first before the…
Yes, just as I thought, before the others-
The very group that represents the lesser.
Lesser not by choice but by societal standards,
Yet we have no choice our patience you demand.
Even if I understand that resources are scarce,
Isn’t it disheartening to be left for the last?
I ain’t no afterthought, I’m a child just like every other,
With dreams in my heart, with hope to discover.
So before you ask me to wait
Ask yourself, what’s at stake?
Am I giving every child a fair chance
Or perpetuating this circumstance?
I ask you all to widen your view
To see the value in embracing us too.
For when you prioritize those deemed “the lesser,”
You uplift not one child but all children together.
Let’s challenge the notion of limited resources,
And seek creative solutions that unlock better courses.
Because until you choose what must be done
Over what you find convenient,
And place collective well-being
Over self-interest achievements,
You cannot say you have my interest at heart
Or that every child is equal without playing your part.
I AIN’T NO AFTERTHOUGHT AND I DEMAND FOR BETTER.
This poem was a contribution to the BAICE keynote address by Prof. Nidhi Singal titled Reimagining Inclusive Education: Multiplicities of Seeing, Being and Doing delivered at the 2023 UKFIET Conference.
Basirat Razaq-Shuaib is a doctoral candidate in Disability and Inclusive Education (under the supervision of Prof. Nidhi Singal) at the University of Cambridge. She is also an award-winning children’s author and the founder of The Winford Centre for Children and Women – a charity that provides education and welfare support services for children with developmental disabilities and their families in Nigeria. Her current research explores the perspectives and lived experiences of children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their parents in accessing education in a Nigerian context.