Statement by Ms. Kirsi Madi - “Break Barriers, Open Doors - the importance of Inclusive Education”
GENEVA, 5 March 2014 - Protecting and promoting the rights of children to education is not a new theme for UNICEF. It has been an integral part of our work since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. With the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, our work has gained momentum and we are working to reaffirm the rights of all children – including children with disabilities – to quality education.
As you know, the focus of last year's UNICEF flagship publication - the State of the World’s Children Report - was on children with disabilities. Our publication reminded us of some of the main challenges children with disabilities face today, but it also reignited UNICEF’s agenda for equity. We are more determined than ever to pursue all of its recommendations, and we call on our partners and stakeholders to do the same, by engaging in three combined actions. Firstly, urge all nation states to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Second, fight discrimination and enhance public awareness of disability as a characteristic of human diversity. And third, dismantle barriers to inclusion so that all children’s environments facilitate access and encourage participation in all aspects of life.
Together we can make a difference. We are very pleased to be able to count on the close partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and all of you present here today, in our renewed effort to, once again, bring attention to children with disabilities and Inclusive Quality Education. However, it will take more than a few of us to really make a difference. International agencies, donors, national and local partners must include children with disabilities in their objectives, targets and monitoring of all development programmes.
The entire UN system needs to rally together to support governments and partners by speaking with one voice about Inclusive Quality Education. Many agencies across the UN system have a role to play, from helping us to gather reliable data that can inform decision-making, to ensuring that the physical environment is accessible, to providing us with the mechanisms necessary to ensure that compliance is monitored and enforced.
Government partners are well aware of the need to include all children in quality education but they need our guidance and support. Just three months ago 17 countries from Europe and Central Asia pledged their support to UNICEF’s Call for Action for “Education Equity Now”. These 17 governments pledged they commitment to ensure that: every child, including children with disabilities, is in school; ensuring that every child, including children with disabilities, is learning; ensuring that every child, including children with disabilities, is learning early and enrolling on time; and, ensuring that every child, including children with disabilities, is supported by effective and efficient governance.
Across the Europe and Central Asia region, UNICEF is engaged in different ways ranging from situation analysis, which will provide governments and partners with much needed information towards more responsive and adequate planning, to nationwide awareness campaigns. UNICEF has supported various state partners to engage in cross-sectoral and multi-disciplinary ways towards more holistic approaches to inclusive education across the lifecycle. In Armenia, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and in Romania the ways in which the definition and classification of children with disabilities is done has undergone changes that will allow for comprehensive and cross-sectoral services to be provided. In some countries such as Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia, inclusive quality education components have been integrated into national policies, providing the necessary legislative spaces for implementation. In Montenegro and Croatia the “It’s About Ability” campaign is opening the minds and hearts of the general public by portraying children with disabilities as worthy and productive members of their societies.
A rights-based approach to inclusive quality education requires more than traditional reform efforts that aim at modernizing one or another level of educational systems. A rights-based approach to inclusive quality education is based on a transformative agenda, one that addresses exclusion, existing inequalities in accessing education, and promotes full participation by all children in inclusive quality education, taking into consideration their individual strengths, abilities and needs.
Despite our best efforts, many children with disabilities still do not have physical access to school; some are actively excluded from attending school; many are isolated from their families in order to be able to attend school; and, many more, feel disengaged from the learning in classrooms where a teacher-centered approach takes place. However, we are at a crucial time, when a difference can be made. The Post 2015 discussions need to provide a clear message that Inclusive Quality Education is the only way to ensure that all children have access to, and participate in, education systems that are responsive to their strengths, talents, abilities and dreams.
Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that efforts such as the one put forth by UNICEF in partnership with the OHCHR in the 7 February meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals gain momentum. In the February meeting we put forward a guiding proposal for an inclusive quality education goal and we need your support to ensure that captures the attention of the Open Working Group. Inclusive Quality Education can only become a reality when the Post 2015 goals reflect the needs of all children, including children with disabilities. We are thus proposing that the new education goal reads: END EXCLUSION AND ENSURE INCLUSIVE QUALITY EDUCATION AND LIFELONG LEARNING.
At UNICEF, we believe that realizing the rights of ALL children is both an investment in the future and a requirement for development. We remain committed to building partnerships, forging new models of cooperation, facilitating learning horizontally from good practices, and working with governments, civil society, the private sector and, most importantly, Disabled People’s Organizations.
We look forward to continuing to work with all of you in improving the lives of the world’s children and supporting the realization of all rights for all children, everywhere, at all times.