Inclusive Education for all

The 13th session of the CRPD Committee dedicated one day to a discussion on the right to education for persons with disabilities

The 13th session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities dedicated one day to a discussion on the right to education for persons with disabilities. The one day session, held on 15 April 2015 at the OHCHR headquarters in Geneva, was attended by different UN bodies, governments, civil society organisations, various NGOs and disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs), and will form the basis of a General Comment on inclusive education for the CRPD in combination with the written submission [1].

What is inclusive education?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(CRPD) does not explicitly define inclusive education; however, Article 24 provides clear guidance with regard to including persons with disabilities in education systems. As a broad concept, inclusive education refers to the rights of all learners (not just children with disabilities, but also other marginalised groups [2]) . It is a process of addressing and responding to the diverse needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education [3]. Inclusive education is also the provision of lifelong interventions to assist in the academic, social, economic, vocational and physical growth of persons with disabilities within the regular education system [4].

To ensure inclusive education, it is evident that inter-sectorial cooperation and partnerships between a variety of stakeholders, transparency, accountability, data collection and capacity building all need to be taken into account. 

Barriers to inclusive education

Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, spoke about three thematic clusters constituting the most urgent challenges:
•    Promotion of active citizenship of persons with disabilities in decision making
•    combatting poverty and
•    promoting change and social perceptions about persons with disabilities to counter stigmatisation

Special Rapporteur to the right to education, Mr. Kishore Singh said that achieving equal opportunity to education remains a challenge, even more so for people with disabilities as they are excluded from education and segregated into special schools.

Mr. Jorge Cardona Lloréns, representative from the Committee on the Rights of the Child said that it is crucial that children with disabilities (and not their parents) be allowed to choose freely the type of school they would like to attend, in order to not compromise their freedom and rights. 

Ms. Barbara Bailey, representative from the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) emphasised discrimination and inequality experienced by women and girls with disabilities due to their gender. According to her, lack of disaggregated data (on the basis of sex, age, location and type of impairment) further marginalises women and girls with disabilities, excluding them from the education system.

Another important barrier to inclusive education discussed was the lack of understanding and comprehension regarding the exact meaning of inclusive education, and how it differs from integration. 

The way ahead to ensure an inclusive education system

The following recommendations were put forth by various stakeholders to ensure inclusive education for all:

1.    All governments must recognise that quality education is inclusive education and benefits ALL in society. Government officials should be part of awareness raising activities and training to ensure that fundamental laws and policies are understood and enforced. 

2.    Measures of support in schools must be made available. Sign language training, material in Braille, provision of assistive devices and ICT, accessibility of school premises etc must be ensured. Emphasis should be given to learning in an environment which responds to all children’s’ linguistic needs. 

3.    Public financing is a determining factor for the success of inclusive education. More resources should be allocated to ensure inclusive education. 

4.    Lack of disaggregated data on disability, gender and age impedes assessment. New methodologies and tools for effective data collection and analysis should be developed.

5.    Training on inclusive education must be compulsory and an integral part of core teachings in universities. Teachers are critical agents of change; they must be empowered to implement measures to increase student participation in education. All teachers should be provided with knowledge and skills necessary to embrace a profession that is truly inclusive.

6.    Inclusive education cannot only be realised by only empowering teachers or changing legislation. Partnerships need to extend beyond schools and governments. A wider range of stakeholders must be provided with knowledge, skills and examples. Inclusive education is not the sole responsibility of disability experts, we all must carry this responsibility.

Recommendations to the CRPD Committee

The CRPD Committee was requested to put out a clear statement that Article 24 proclaims the right to inclusive education for all children, and not just those with disabilities. The Committee was also encouraged to structurally question segregated education as discrimination against all learners, and list its negative impacts. Another important recommendation was a statement that reasonable accommodation cannot be used as an excuse to exclude children. Finally, the CRPD Committee was also asked to disseminate clear cut recommendations to spread information about the nature of inclusive education.

[1] Article 24 - Education

[2] Handicap International (2012), Policy Brief no.8, ‘Inclusive Education’

[3] UNESCO (2005), ‘Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring access to education for all’

[4] Day of General Discussion (DGD) on the right to education for persons with disabilities