|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1152/Kate Holt|
|Six-year-old Nemanja Brkic (left) and a classmate hold up drawings in their nursery school in Novi Sad, capital of Vojvodina Province. Nemanja was born with hearing problems. His nursery school is one of the first to accept disabled children as part of a new law integrating disabled children into regular schools.|
By Rudina Vojvoda
NEW YORK, USA, 22 September 2011 – Over 1.5 million children in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) live with disabilities. Commonly locked up in segregated institutions or hidden away in their homes, children with disabilities are one of the most marginalised groups in our society. They are often denied their basic right to quality education and lack opportunities to interact with their peers and actively participate in society.
To promote inclusive education for children with disabilities, 20 representatives from the CEE/CIS countries as well as relevant stakeholders are gathering next week in Moscow for the first-ever regional conference of its kind.
In the lead up to the Moscow conference, UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke talked to Ms. Elina Lehtomaki, Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and a pioneer in the field of inclusive education.
Fighting social stigma
Throughout the world children who have disabilities or experience difficulties in learning have traditionally been stigmatised and excluded from schools.
“We do assume that education is for all but it’s an assumption,” said Ms. Lehtomaki. “Even in countries where we have got high enrolment rates of children going to school, we still find that children with disabilities are not even counted for. Children may stay at school or they may go to segregated education settings where they are out of the general education system.”
For Ms. Lehtomaki, the education of children with disabilities is particularly important because of its potential to build children’s capacities and reduce social stigma. “Social stigma is one of the key issues preventing parents from taking children to school, especially the schools where other children go,” she stressed.
A shared goal
The Moscow conference on inclusive education for children with disabilities in CEE/CIS will focus on three main objectives: highlighting the global movement toward inclusive education and exploring the region’s fit within the global trend; sharing best practices implemented so far in the region; and enhancing collaboration among all stakeholders.
Commenting on the outcomes of the conference, Ms. Lehtomaki said: “We need all efforts and we need everybody in this process, everybody to work towards the same goal.”
To learn more about the conference on inclusive education for children with disabilities in CEE/CIS, please visit: http://www.unicef.org/ceecis/education_17933.html
'Beyond School Books'
The following stories are part of the 'Beyond School Books' series focusing on education during emergencies.
Segment #75: UN Special Adviser says gender equality and girls' education critical in post-2015 goals
Segment #74: Young people provide strategic advice on education issues
Segment #73: Girls advocate for girls' education and gender equality