Progress made in the area of inclusive education for children with disabilities, but challenges remain
GENEVA, 1 March 2013 — UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Ms. Yoka Brandt, urged Governments to accelerate their reform of the education systems to increase support for children with disabilities.
At a side event in the margins of the High-Level Segment of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms Brandt, stated that much had been achieved but special attention still needs to be given to the most vulnerable and hard to reach children, in particular children with disabilities.
“Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and excluded in the world. Their rights are often violated, and society loses valuable members when we allow children with disabilities to become invisible. ” she said.
Despite the challenges, many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia have introduced progressive policies in inclusive education and launched anti-discriminatory campaigns. Ministers from Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, participated in the side event to share about progress made, lessons learned and remaining challenges in their respective countries.
The event was co-chaired by the Permanent Representatives of Finland and Spain to the UN in Geneva. Finland has systematically demonstrated strong commitment towards realizing the rights of persons with disabilities. Spain is a facilitator of the preparatory process for the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development taking place in September in New York.
UNICEF is working with governments to support education systems, families and children to reduce inequities created by social exclusion. Ms. Brandt welcomed the side event as an opportunity for participants to share good practices and lessons learnt in the field of inclusive education. The experience from Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS region will contribute to the global dialogue on this issue, in the context of the Secretary General’s Education First initiative and is a precursor to the launch in May of UNICEF’s flagship publication, the State of the World’s Children Report which will, this year, be dedicated to disability.
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.
Hidden at home or placed in 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. Children with disabilities are often unwelcome in their neighborhood schools. They are often not seen in public, nor do they get a chance to be actively involved in their communities.
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 and Science of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mr Pance Kralev, said: "We are challenging the way children with special education needs are viewed, emphasizing their abilities and focusing on how to remove the barriers. Recognizing that the quality of teaching is the single-most important variable in creating quality inclusive learning environments, we are currently rolling out, a national teacher training programme, fully in line with the globally recognized 'social model' for working with children with special education needs. The programme includes tools and techniques that help teachers identify, assess, and develop individualized learning programmes."
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. Today a third of Serbian primary schools increased enrolment of children with disabilities into the first grade in 2010.”
Deputy Minister of Education and Sports of Montenegro Vesna Vucurovic, said: “A three-year advocacy campaign reached 80 per cent of the population and we raised awareness so that everyone understands that education of children with special needs is key to their future development.”
Mr. J Patrick Clarke, Chief Executive Officer of Down Syndrome Ireland, representing the International Disability Alliance said: “Education is the bedrock of society and without it change would never be possible. Inclusive education of persons with disabilities is vital for their development so that they can affect the necessary change in society.”
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.
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