Education International
Education International

Schools must be inclusive spaces for teachers and students with disabilities

published 19 May 2011 updated 30 May 2011

Since beginning of May, 100 states have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. EI welcomes the commitment of states to create more inclusive societies and demands concrete steps to move from paper to practice.

The UN Disability Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006, aiming at guaranteeing human rights and participation in society for persons with disabilities. This includes the right to education (article 24 of the Convention): States commit themselves to create an inclusive education system at all levels, directed at the full development of differently-abled persons’ human potential and sense of dignity, and enabling them to participate effectively in society. In the world of work (article 27 of the Convention), states have to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in professional training, employment and career advancement, and they have to protect the rights of differently-abled persons to just and favourable conditions of work.

Despite the overwhelming ratification of this Convention, persons with disabilities are still widely disadvantaged in society and in education. The UNESO 2010 Education For All Global Monitoring Report points out that “Disability is one of the least visible but most potent factors in educational marginalization. Beyond the immediate health-related effects, physical and mental impairment carries a stigma that is often a basis for exclusion from society and school.” This affects students as well as teachers with disabilities. A mixture of fear, shame and ignorance in schools and communities contributes to the isolation of differently-abled persons.

Worldwide, around 150 million children live with disabilities. They face many challenges in education, most importantly institutionalised discrimination, stigmatisation and neglect. Students with disabilities are excluded from education systems through physical access barriers, a shortage of appropriately trained teachers and limited provision of teaching aids. For example, children with disabilities in Malawi and Tanzania are twice as likely to never attend school; in Burkina Faso two and a half times as likely. In Bulgaria and Romania, over 90% of all children attend school, but among children with disabilities, the enrolment ratio is lower than 60%.

Education can have a strong role in improving the lives of differently-abled persons. It can change societal attitudes towards disabilities, and by providing a stimulating and inclusive learning environment, education systems can effectively improve personal and professional development opportunities. But in order to make that possible, additional resources are needed. Investment is necessary to remove physical barriers to school buildings and to adapt classrooms and teaching materials to the needs of differently-abled teachers and students. Teachers need training to deal with the special needs of students with disabilities, and schools need specially designed learning materials. Families with differently-abled children may also require additional financial support.

EI Deputy General Secretary Jan Eastman said: “Within the past five years, 100 governments have signed the UN Disability Convention. Now it is time to move from paper to practice and implement this Convention in education systems around the world. Not only because it is a human right, but because teachers and students with disabilities can bring a unique perspective into the classroom, enrich education and society.”

Fostering inclusive education systems will be a main focus of discussion at EI’s 6th World Congress in July 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa. Breakout Session 2 will ask: “Are Inclusive Education Institutions a Real Possibility or a Dream?,” and discuss teacher unions’ strategies to open up education systems for marginalised and discriminated groups.