The Role Advocacy Plays in Inclusive Education: An Interview With CivicAtion

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Inclusive education is a key voting issue across the Americas, and advocacy groups have an important role to play (Image credit: International Disability Alliance).

When my mom reached out to the Department of Education national headquarters about her insights into my accelerated academic and readiness development on the topic of giftedness, the person who answered the call told her that such cases will never happen in the country. To date, Ecuador has built the first legal tool in many parts of the world for legal giftedness resolution and special needs curriculum adaptations in Ecuador. However transnationally, the Americas is still in development for the attention of educational needs, and for its achievement, it is a fight that takes time, effort, and many changes in priorities. 

Our fight accomplished to address the making of inclusive education legal tools, yet, the competent administrative and daily-basis actors in the educational community lack a comprehensible interest in its deployment.

This article explores the pressing issues in inclusive education and the role of advocacy in driving change. We delve into specific cases in the Americas, featuring insights from experts and organizations at the forefront of this battle, and our own experience.

Should not education be overall student-focused? This is modern education’s advocate’s goal. Flexible Classrooms, as they call it, is the term for building a physical and methodical environment adequate to boost student’s learning and development; yet, it has been reduced to customized and colorful seating in many schools claiming to apply the concept. 

Jaime Saavedra, Regional Director of Human Development in The Americas at the World Bank, shared his finding that only one in five countries have an explicit and comprehensive strategy to recover and accelerate learning in schools.

This drastic change from concept to practice emerges from the feasibility of reforming students’ learning environment. Student-focused education requires schools capacitated with curated guides for the temple diagnosis and assistance of students with any special education need.

Special needs cluster into three categories; disabilities, giftedness, and double exceptionality (which compasses the latest two). While the concept has been worldwide adjusted by national law, the Federation for Children with Special Needs in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Education, wrote that its definition is whenever a child’s education program is officially altered from what would normally be provided to students, alining the student’s diagnosis for its adequate academic enrichment.

To build a solid legal base for the attention of educational needs, it is essential for families and advocates to have a comprehensive understanding of the existing laws and regulations that impact students with special needs.

Given the diversity of civil and common law systems in The Americas, we have used an automated model to divide the region into three groups. Acknowledging the region’s precedents and demographic challenges, we show how its demographic statistics reflect its progress and key events for inclusive education guides, legal tools, and assertive procedures.

The data used ranged from countries’ political & social security, economics, health supplies, and population groups. Therefore, the country with the most similarity to each group’s mean statistics is selected as their main representative.

In the 2004 Fall, the US Department of Education published a research paper on gifted students with disabilities, however a government study later made in 2018, showed that 3rd and 12th grade teachers stated that they received very little training about working with academically gifted students. This study indicated that approximately 65% of teachers stated that training courses or teacher education programs had little or no focus on academically gifted students.

The United States’ education inclusion history is essentially founded by civil movements. In the early 20th century, parents formed advocacy groups to help bring attention to the educational needs of children with disabilities. The groups gained momentum in the mid-20th century, and in 1961, President John F. Kennedy created the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation, whose recommendations and guidelines included federal aid to states.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), work towards educational inclusion must happen in the following key areas:

  • Advocacy
  • Awareness-raising
  • Capacity-building
  • And implementation support

The United Nations published that civic compromise and youth literacy in politics and policy vary fundamentally over socioeconomic factors seen in the analysis, consequently, their voting rights also vary (as seen in the previous The Sunday Diplomat article), and the awareness of the procedures towards concretizing public policies and law for a public interest. 

Empowering Youth Advocacy: An Interview with CivicAtion

CivicAtion is a global organization dedicated to fostering universal political education and empowering youth and students to become active and engaged citizens, through hosted awareness events, virtual seminars and camps, and global fund-raising for student-led advocacy campaigns. The heart of their mission is founded on the fact that political literacy is a fundamental right of democracy.

Because of their extensive trajectory in public policy, debate, and advocacy literacy, I invited Naimisha Chakravadhanula and Sruti Peddi, co-founders of CivicAtion, to bring their experience and field opinions. 

Q: From your perspective, how feasible is it to propose, change, or revolutionize legal tools for the attention of these students in The Americas region?

“I definitely think it’s a very difficult process, whether it’s in North or South America. Governments care about the education of their students. Reforming education is often a voting issue and fundamentally, it’s very important that government or school districts empower organizations like CivicAtion or smaller ones that do grassroots work. They often have better connections to young students and they can provide resources that the larger institutions miss out.”

The work in smaller organizational levels, as Naimisha and Sruti described, formed part of the key environment that helped Costa Rica institutions recognize giftedness and double exceptionality as a part of special education, such as the Costa Rica International Academy

We have to note that a country’s development is strongly related to its schools with international exchange with countries with prior special needs experience.

In September 2023, Costa Rica’s education system suffered an important crisis in their quality and students’ grades likely due to the wrong management of government resources in education investment; the country is historically well-known for its remarkable accomplishment of education in The Americas.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the country began to focus on special education. In 1974, the Ministry of Education created the Special Education Department to provide services to students with disabilities. Then the country made a significant leap in 2008, as it passed a law that requires all public and private schools to provide inclusive education to students with disabilities.

“I definitely agree with the point about grassroots efforts. Oftentimes, in order to enact change, it has to be at lower levels because obviously, it’s very hard to reach your governors, the president, these very high-level officials because either they don’t believe that it’s an issue (of high priority) or they just don’t have time.”

Mexico’s approach changed after non-concretizing the legal tools for education regulation guidelines for the attention of special needs. Their current law that regulates education was made in 2019, delayed compared to the other groups, and it establishes that the Ministry of Public Education will determine the applicable and mandatory curricula in preschool, primary, secondary, and pre-university education, as well as the curricula for the training of basic education teachers. In 2011, The General Law for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities was published and it sought the direct participation of teachers and educational personnel in the integration of people with disabilities in education.

Families in the country still face challenges in the proper implementation of identification, placement, evaluation, and certification procedures. The landscape and compass of disabilities, giftedness, and other vulnerabilities are separated by each specific case. 

Q: How can CivicAtion (and advocacy literacy) help students and young people with their rights and power to advocate?

“Definitely. I think, especially when it comes to young people, there are just so many barriers, whether it’s a lack of trust or disbelief from larger organizations.

I think it’s important that organizations like ours offer that first step, especially to younger people who come from low-income, disadvantaged backgrounds that sometimes don’t even see this as a possibility for them.

We want to change that narrative that anyone can become a leader and everyone should deserve to become a leader.

CivicAtion’s mission is clear: to break down barriers and offer young people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to become leaders in advocacy. They emphasize that anyone with a determined fighting spirit can develop to become a leader, and everyone deserves access to information about their government.

Where we stand now

Advocacy in Mexico is only centered on specific support of student conditions; generating independent schools and programs specialized for giftedness and disabilities that are not regulated by law. To date, Mexican parents struggle with high effort for the assertive attention on children with more than one special need, with 30% of special needs students not attending school.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, highlights that the only viable path gifted students with other special needs or vulnerabilities will thrive is that all schools apply student-focused education.

Costa Rica’s ongoing special needs challenges are due to the lack of holistic legal guides. The strong relation between cultural exchange for its development is consequently highly privatized to the schools that accomplish such goals. Without specific guidelines on identification and regulation of the material and student monitoring for giftedness, as there is for disabilities, it creates a significant obstacle between public schools and independent schools centered on gifted students that may not address disabilities needs.

As the concept of special needs is defined according to the IDEA, in the United States, there is no official recognition of giftedness as a special need. Only some states have developed their own policies and guidelines to address identification procedures, specialized assignments, and funding for gifted education.

The largest category of gifted students with disabilities in the US are students with speech and language impairments. The second category the US department found was regarding learning disabilities. To date in the United States, there have not been reported or officially counted students with orphan diseases and giftedness, and only 1 student was found to be visually impaired and intellectually advanced. The lack of precedent essentially limits the feasibility of policy and law-making in the field.

Q: How do we build a scalable policy and rights literacy methodology?

“The universality of our tenets is kind of the beautiful part of CivicAtion. It’s where student leaders in different countries can kind of adapt these tenets to better fit their country’s policies, their country’s election structure, and government structure, but the tenant will be fundamentally the same.

Everyone deserves access to information. There should be freedom of information about governments, such as among young people who may not be as well informed in this area.

We’re talking about anyone who can vote or even participate, so we like to say that we are driving the movement for a universal political education. No matter what country you’re in, civic education is always going to be important.”

Advocacy literacy extends beyond the youth demographic. Even older individuals may lack information about government processes and their ability to get involved. CivicAtion underscores the importance of considering diverse perspectives and demographics when promoting advocacy literacy.

Q: What other population area have you seen that struggles within advocacy literacy?

“I work at my local library and most of the people who came to a (advocacy and rights literacy) workshop are actually old people. 

There’s evidence that there are seniors who are not completely informed, and that also means that throughout their lives and throughout their decisions in government, they were also uninformed.

So it is not something that is only at a certain age, but also something that transcends throughout their collaboration in society.”

The ongoing debate over the concepts of disabilities, special needs, giftedness, and exceptionality; is a challenge that all three American groups face.

As the United States pioneers education laws for disabilities, a crucial gap exists in recognizing giftedness as an educational special need. This lack of recognition limits the feasibility of policy and lawmaking in the field.

Costa Rica and Mexico have taken the privatization and independent schools approach, therefore the services offered to the students vary drastically from the center’s visions; and there is no center core guide for definitions, procedures, and regulations limiting student opportunities if they seek to convalidate their academical records outside the country or region.

Based on these countries’ environment, which is a requirement for law and policy making, are strongly equal to the other countries in the same cluster from the demographic and financial data; we find a strong similarity in the lack of clear legal guides or education measurements for students with double exceptionality.

Literacy with curated material, being CivicAtion’s movement a reference in it, offering the feasibility for international students involvement and civil participation is fundamentally key and a high priority for the fluffiness of inclusive education, as the younger population and their guardians are highly impacted depending on the assertive management of their cases.

For any law, policy, and legal tool, the prioritization of a child’s rights must be firm, and what education measurements will be of the most beneficial for its independent personal, academic, and professional development.

Written by Emily Ulloa

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