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Conference "Right to Inclusive Education"

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Opening remarks by the UNICEF Representative

 

Every child has a right to a quality education that respects and promotes her or his dignity and optimum development. This belief is at the core of UNICEF’s human rights-based approach to development, and to education.

Quality education is a right for every child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) both clearly express the aim of guaranteeing quality education for all and the importance of providing the required support to develop each child’s full potential.

 

Recent data indicates that 8,3 per cent of the total population in Bosnia and Herzegovina report “experiencing any difficulties in performing basic activities at home, at work or in schoo.l” The share of children under 18 years of age who experience any difficulty is 0,9 per cent of the total BiH population, or about 6,329 children.

When we focus in on younger children, the data from the 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey shows that 6.5% of children from 2 to 9 years of age have some kind of disability in BiH.

Most of these children are not in school, are invisible and even, forgotten. Evidence from all over the world shows that children who are disabled are more likely to be poor and remain poor throughout their lifetimes, due to lack of education and job opportunities. Ensuring that children with disabilities have access to inclusive, quality education is critical to reverse the cycles of poverty and exclusion.

This means transforming culture, policy and practice in all formal and informal educational environments to ensure education truly is accessible and available for all children to learn and develop.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, important steps have been taken and we must recognise and appreciate these:

·                     Education laws at all levels contain principles of inclusive education

·                     There is a much higher number of children with disabilities in mainstream schools than in special schools.

 

At the same time, we have much more that needs to be done:

·                     Progress in inclusive education in BiH is measured by “access” to school and not by “participation” in education

·                     Developmental delays in children are often identified too late to provide the best care.

·                     Data on children with disabilities are not systematically collected and there is no common methodology applied across the country

·                     Vertical and horizontal links between the higher education teacher preparation institutions – that educate regular and specialized staff - the bodies used to support teachers in the field (i.e. Pedagogical Institutes), school directors and actual teachers are weak

To begin to address some of these issues, we know what needs to be done. Under the leadership of the various education authorities at different levels, we need to clearly define inclusive education goals for all levels and types of education. Inclusive education is part of the education system and is not separate programme/policy or strategy.

It is critical to invest in teacher training – pre-service and in-service training, at all levels – from preschool, primary, secondary, higher education, and vocational training for all teachers must focus on strengthening key competencies and values of teachers to work in inclusive settings. This requires a change of culture and a fundamentally different pedagogical approach. Teachers need resources and a support system in order to be able to work with all learners.

We need to further strengthen inter-sectoral collaboration through establishment of a system for early childhood identification of developmental delays and disabilities, and interventions including participation in preschool programmes for all children, and support to ensure their transition to primary school including support and training for parents and caregivers.

Many of these issues are addressed in General Comment 4 to the Article 24 of the CRPD, which provides us with the foundation for our discussions today and tomorrow to further strengthen the inclusive education processes and education reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Together with the Ministry of Civil Affairs BiH as the key partner in education at the state level, we at UNICEF believe that mobilizing and informing a wide range of key stakeholders – all of you - on the importance and need for inclusive education will inform decisions and strategies to achieve inclusive education in line with international human rights principles and standards.

During the two days of the Conference, we will have a chance to listen to the General Comment of the Article 24 and have a discussion on its key elements. Then we will zoom into the four specific themes of the General comment.

The first theme is special schools -  how do we need to re-think this approach? The second theme is teachers and how to build further the core competencies and skills for inclusion such as how to identify students’ functional abilities, strengths and learning styles. The third theme will focus on schools as learning organizations, marking a shift in the approach from individual support to students to increasing the capacity of all schools to provide quality support to all learners. We hope you will discuss how this move towards a human-rights approach requiress a different pedagogical approach, and what that might look like in BiH. The final theme is on the importance of inter-sectoral cooperation in order to achieve a coherent approach, across education, health, and social welfare sectors, on inclusive education at different levels, all over BiH.

With many thanks to our colleagues, Philippe Testot-Ferry, UNICEF regional advisor on education and our experts from different Universities in Europe as well as from the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education - we count on all of us together in these two days to initiate the dialogue and develop a Vision of Inclusive Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the first step towards a truly inclusive society where all children with disabilities are able to actively learn, participate and contribute.

Let me conclude by quoting an 18-year old young woman whom we interviewed as part of our recent Situation Analysis on Children with Disabilities:

“I want to be a successful woman, who will make a living by herself and not have to depend on other people. I am aware that this is hard to accomplish, especially when you are a woman with a disability; however, it is not impossible. I plan to achieve my goals and dreams through education – educated people are always respected. I expect full support from my family, because such support truly means a lot to me and is pushing me to be better.” (UNICEF Disability SitAn, 2016)

Let’s all be inspired and motivated by this young woman’s hopes and her drive to be a success!  We owe her – and all the children of BiH – every opportunity to be educated, to develop, to contribute to her society and to live to her fullest potential. 

 

Thank you

 

 
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