Transforming the lives of children with disabilities through inclusive education
NEW YORK/GENEVA 8 February 2013 — Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and excluded in the world. Their rights are often violated.
Hidden at home or placed in special institutions, children with disabilities often miss out on education. Many grow up apart from their families. If they stay at home, parents fear their children will be mocked and taunted because of the stigma associated with having a disability. They are often not seen in public, nor do they get a chance to be actively involved in their communities.
According to the World Report on Disability, one billion people live with a disability. At least one in ten are children and about 80 per cent live in developing countries. Statistics like this remind us that children with disabilities are not unusual.
Despite the challenges, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia, particularly Armenia, Montenegro and Serbia, have introduced progressive policies in inclusive education and launched anti-discriminatory campaigns. These efforts have changed attitudes and made positive changes in the lives of children with disabilities.
UNICEF is working with governments to support education systems, families and children to reduce inequities created by social exclusion.
''Just imagine a world in where all children are included, involved; where their talents are celebrated, where their contributions are recognised,'' said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. ''That is the world towards which UNICEF is working.''
Twelve-year-old Siranoush Martirosyan from Armenia, who uses a wheelchair, said she is now able to attend School No. 129 near her home in the capital Yerevan.
''I am good at drawing and playing piano,'' she said, ''I feel like any other children in this school. I enjoy being together with other children, going out with them during breaks, having fun with them and participating in school events. ''
The number of special schools has been halved in Armenia, while the number of inclusive schools has increased up to 100 since 2005 when inclusive education was introduced.
In Serbia, Zarica Kumanovic, mother of Aleksa who goes to Vuk Karadzic Primary School in Serbia said, ''Aleksa is a satisfied and happy boy who lives in a healthy environment with friends who accept him and teachers who meet his needs when is necessary.”
The three governments recently demonstrated their progress and challenges at a briefing on the sidelines of UNICEF's Executive Board meeting.
Inclusive education means giving each and every child an opportunity to learn at their local school with enough support to reach their full potential. This, however, does not require special institutions, care, expensive materials or specialized expertise. It simply means all students, including children with disabilities, should have the opportunity to receive individualized services and approaches to learning.
Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia, Zarko Obradovic said, ''We have made it possible for every child to be enrolled in school and crafted and designed individualized programmes for each student."
He described innovations such as the Network for Inclusive Education. The government, teachers, school psychologists, pedagogues and civil society groups work together with the National Monitoring Framework that tracks progress in reducing inequities in education. Some 15,000 teachers, or a fifth of the total, have now been trained. A third of Serbian primary schools increased enrolment of children with disabilities into the first grade in 2010.
Deputy Minster of Education and Sports of Montenegro Vesna Vucurovic, said: “We raised awareness so that everyone understands that education of children with special needs is key to their future development.”
A three-year advocacy campaign in this nation reached 80 per cent of the population. One in four people surveyed said they had changed their behaviour and are now more accepting that children with disabilities are included in mainstream schools and society.
Armenia focused on the importance of making a strategic shift from grassroots school-level work to a comprehensive policy effort.
''The process started at schools. It was slow. The Ministry realized that it needed to be scaled up,'' Deputy Minister of Education and Sciences of Armenia Karine Harutyunyan said. She described changes to the curriculum, which became more inclusive and the creation of a special council to assess the educational needs of children with disabilities.
Much more needs to be done. UNICEF is continuing to call to other governments and donor communities to support policies that realize all children`s right to quality education as one way to reduce inequities created by social exclusion.
''When as many children as possible have access to quality education, it is good for the society because you enrich the society at the same time, '' said the President of the UNICEF Executive Board and Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations Jarmo Viinanen.