25th March 2021
Inclusive education gains mainstream acceptance
Sitting upright dressed in a purple and white school uniform, 17-year-old Zihe was all ears as he attended his favorite history class in a middle school in Tianjin.
He sometimes raised his hand and answered questions, and sometimes took notes. Though he wrote the Chinese characters very slowly, his handwriting was neat and clear.
Zihe was diagnosed with Down syndrome when he was a toddler. It is a genetic disorder usually associated with delayed physical growth and mild intellectual disability. To convey a message of solidarity with people with Down syndrome, March 21 was declared World Down Syndrome Day by the United Nations in December 2011.
"When my son was diagnosed with Down syndrome at the age of 1, I was so saddened and could hardly accept the fact," says Suyun, Zihe's mother. Both Zihe and Suyun are pseudonyms.
Suyun made him learn Chinese characters word by word. "I opened my mouth much wider to let him watch my lips and tongue, and even touched his throat to teach him how to speak," Suyun says. Zihe could only utter his first word－mama, or mother－when he was 2.
Zihe was a quiet boy. When he reached school-going age, Zihe could not keep pace with his peers. He was enrolled into a special education school offering professional education to children in need.
Big changes took place in 2014 when Tianjin's Beichen district set up an education program, guided by the concept of inclusive education. The concept, originally proposed by UNESCO, respects individual differences among children and provides education to all without discrimination. It allows children with challenges to learn with their peers.