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“Inclusive education for children with disabilities: examples from Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia”

Marie-Pierre Poirier
Ms. Marie-Pierre Poirier is the UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of the Independent States since 1 February 2012.

GENEVA, 5 February 2013  - Worldwide, an estimated 93 million children under the age of 15 have a disability. Many of them will never get the chance to go to school at all. In fact, it is likely that at least one third of the 67 million children of primary school age that are still out of school, are children with disabilities.

These figures only represent very gross estimates and should be treated with caution. In most cases, the underlying national data should be improved in quality and collected using up-to-date definitions and consistent methods to provide a reliable picture of the situation.

Although data gaps exists, we know that children with disabilities, together with many children from poor urban areas, from linguistic and cultural minorities, from disadvantaged households, from single parent homes, from migrant families, and from many other groups, are often excluded from services and society in general.

They live with the constant reality of having many of their rights violated. Their problems are complex and often related to compounding disadvantages, and issues related to school exclusion are often broader that what can be reflected in available numbers and statistics.

While global education and social protection reforms have been slow in demonstrating results, results for children do exist. The challenges that children and youth face today demand that all stakeholders rededicate their efforts to a new level of engagement that takes us beyond geographically constricted projects.

As evidenced by the several months-long consultations on the subject of Inequalities as part of global and country level consultations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, a diversity of voices in the conversations about children and youth is now appearing. In addition, many international entities in collaboration with disabled people organizations, are preparing to address the UN General Assembly in a high-level meeting in September. This meeting, under the theme: “The way forward: a disability inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond” will provide much needed guidance on issues related to disability, including on how to ensure that all signatories of the Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities can and will address the education of children with disabilities as proposed in article 14 on inclusive education.

We know what works. We know what has worked in countries like Italy, Portugal, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand and many others. These are countries which have created inclusive education systems and, consequently, more equitable societies. And, some countries in our region are beginning to address this most pressing global issue in committed and innovative ways.

More schools are welcoming first grade children with disabilities in Serbia as a result of years of policy advocacy. Huge nationwide awareness raising campaigns in Montenegro and strong engagement of civil society in promoting inclusion in Armenia have led to increased public demands for inclusive schools.

UNICEF commits its convening power to back up governments to lead and build the synergies needed for cohesive, transparent and inclusive policies which are better suited to today’s realities.

A briefing on the margins of the first UNICEF Executive Board Meeting of 2013 will showcase some of the efforts and innovation emerging from the region, efforts that have a broader scope than that contained by geographical boarders. This event and others to be undertaken in the near future will start to provide the fuel necessary to demonstrate that a pledge to inclusive schools and inclusive systems can be the precursor to much broader social change and a sustained obligation to social justice.

Marie-Pierre Poirier

The writer is the UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 



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