The Right of Children with Disabilities to Education: a Rights-Based Approach to Inclusive Education
Statement by Steven Allen Regional Director, UNICEF, Regional Office for CEECIS at the Conference on Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities Moscow, Russian Federation 27-29 September 2011 The Right of Children with Disabilities to Education: a Rights-Based Approach to Inclusive EducationMr Adviser to the President, Deputy-Ministers, Vice-Mayor,Distinguished participants, Colleagues from Partner Organisations,Colleagues from the UN, Friends,It is a great pleasure and an honour to be with you in Moscow today.This Conference on Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilitiesconstitutes an excellent forum to take stock of progress made so far inthe region at policy level and in the field, as well as a platform fordiscussing major stumbling blocks and ways to address them.This conference is also an excellent opportunity to share experiences,learn from each other and improve understanding, coordination,collaboration and synergies between regional actors and stakeholdersinvolved in inclusive education.
2As we all know, children with disabilities represent a significantproportion of the out-of-school population in the region, a populationthat has particular educational needs. Indeed, children with disabilitiesare subject to severe discrimination, segregation, and exclusion from allsocial aspects of life.The most recent officially recognized figure of children with disabilitiesin this region stands at 1.5 million. However, when compared tointernational benchmarks that place the global percentage of childrenwith disabilities at 2.5 per cent, this figure suggests that over a millionchildren with disabilities are not included in the data, and are leftinvisible. They are unaccounted for, and are likely to be out-of-school.For children with disabilities in Central Eastern Europe and theCommonwealth of Independent States (CEECIS), institutionalizationremains the overwhelming policy approach, in large part due to a longtradition of ‘defectology’. This continues to be the academic disciplinegoverning the care and treatment of children with disabilities. Thenumber of children in institutional care in the region is the highest in theworld. It is estimated that more than 626,000 children live in institutionsand as many as 60% of them are registered as children with disabilities.The continued consideration of children with disabilities as ‘defective’from the norm as well as the high number of children with disabilitiesbeing institutionalized or out of school stands in direct contrast to theglobal moral imperative of a rights-based approach to education.
3UNICEF’s work is rooted in the Convention on the Rights of the Childwhich calls for equal rights and opportunities for every child regardlessof his or her ability. And because of our organizational focus on equity,we support the policies and strategies leading to inclusive education.Moreover, Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons withDisability, which has been signed by most countries in the region butratified by only seven of them, specifically calls on the governments toensure that education systems are inclusive of children with disabilities.Besides inclusive education being a child’s right, there are threecompelling arguments from research that support the inclusion ofchildren with disabilities in the mainstream educational environments:academic performance, economic benefits and social cohesion.Inclusive education benefits all learners. Research shows that inclusiveeducation can lead to better learning outcomes for all children, not justchildren with disabilities. Inclusive education promotes tolerance andenables social cohesion as it fosters a cohesive social culture andpromotes equal participation in society. Inclusive education is more costeffective than separated schooling. And finally, it provides for inclusivelabor markets, which are instrumental for a more efficient socialeconomy.Inclusive education needs to be understood as integral to the whole ofthe education system – not just an add-on. Inclusive education is not
4only about addressing issues of input, such as access, and those relatedto processes such as teacher training, but it involves a shift in underlyingvalues and beliefs held across the system. It requires that all children,including children with disabilities, not only have access to schoolingwithin their own community, but that they are provided withappropriate learning opportunities to achieve their full potential. Thisapproach is underpinned by an understanding that all children shouldhave equivalent and systematic learning opportunities in a wide range ofschool and additional educational settings, despite the differences thatmight exist.One important constraint for inclusion is the social stigma. Researchfound that the most effective way to influence deeply rooted prejudiceabout disability is personal contact with people with special needs, andpointed to the importance of starting inclusive initiatives as early inchildhood as possible.In this context it is essential to recognize the unique role that parents ofchildren with disabilities can play in bringing about the change in thesocietal attitudes towards their children. However, the parents cannotdo this alone. The support has to come from the neighborhood, from thelocal community and the local services, from inclusive policies and closemonitoring of their implementation, and especially from decisivesanction of any form of discrimination.I know that every government, organization, and individual gatheredhere in this room is committed to building a socially inclusive society.
5But this cannot be achieved unless every single child is included. Aninclusive education system creates crucial spaces for bringing aboutsocial change. All children, without exception, gain from learning fromeach other, and break down stereotypes. Inclusive Education forChildren with Disabilities puts us one step further towards a sociallyinclusive society.UNICEF is committed to work with partners and governments in theregion to take forward the agenda for action that emerges from thisConference. The right of every child to develop to his or her full potentialis at the heart of our mandate. Every child has to be given a chance – atthe earliest opportunity.I realise that this is not going to be easy. I am equally convinced that wecan do it. The denial of the rights of children with disabilities toeducation has been going on for too long. The signature and ratificationof the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability provide us themomentum needed. We can do it, together.Thank you