Why is inclusive education an MDAC human rights goal?
Although there are no reliable statistics, it is clear that a vastly disproportionate number of disabled children (including those with intellectual or psycho-social disabilities) have no formal education. Estimates currently suggest that of the 86% of children who now access primary education in developing countries, only some 1-3% are children with disabilities. In Europe, there remains a significant number of children with disabilities (particularly amongst those living in institutions) who do not have access to formal education. For children with intellectual disabilities who do attend school it is likely that they will attend special or segregated educational establishments which follow a different curriculum from that offered in mainstream schools and which are often acknowledged to offer a lesser standard of education. Further, these schools may be situated long distances away from the children’s families and therefore require them to board and live away from their communities. In both mainstream and segregated settings, there is evidence to suggest that appropriate reasonable accommodation is often not provided to children with disabilities and that necessary teacher training and classroom support are not in place.
‘Inclusive education’ is thus not a reality for a very significant proportion of children with psycho-social or intellectual disabilities in Africa or in Europe. Inclusive education is based on the idea that all children should learn together in mainstream environments within the same general education framework. Essential to it is the belief in the unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs of each child (whether or not they have a disability). It requires States to respond positively to diversity and to ensure that appropriate support and reasonable accommodation is provided to children with disabilities within the mainstream school system so as to enrich the education of all.
How is inclusive education a human rights issue?
The right to education is enshrined in many human rights treaties. Until the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, governments could argue that education for children with disabilities could be provided in segregated or “special” schools. Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls for inclusive education for people (including children) with disabilities, and obliges the State to provide reasonable accommodation in education systems. The provision calls for States to take measures which are directed to “the full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity” (Article 24(a)). This will result in “enabling persons with disabilities to participate in a free society” (Art. 24(c)). Given that education is generally seen as an economic and social right, it is subject to progressive realisation and will incur costs – it is an issue which engages the development community.
What MDAC is calling for?
- A legal right to inclusive education
- Children and youth with disabilities are educated in regular educational settings with support
- No segregated schooling for children with disabilities
What impact has MDAC achieved?
In 2008 the European Committee on Social Rights decided the case of MDAC v Bulgaria, in which it held that segregated education constitutes a violation of the right to education under the European Social Charter, and that this constitutes discrimination too. MDAC has been working on inclusive education in Bulgaria since then, by holding a series of roundtables, including one in 2009 which was attended by Thomas Hammarberg, the then Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. He published his a “Viewpoint” in September 2009, a document to which MDAC contributed. He referenced the MDAC v. Bulgaria case and noted the widespread segregation of children with intellectual disabilities constitutes a violation of human rights. He criticised European governments for their failure to follow through on de-institutionalisation policies, and called for action to combat disability-based discrimination against children.
On 19 March 2010, MDAC hosted an inclusive education summit meeting in Budapest, Hungary for mental disability rights organisations and Roma rights organisations advocating for the promotion of inclusive education. The aim of the meeting was to better understand the specific advocacy goals of NGOs working in the area of inclusive education in central and eastern Europe, and to discuss opportunities for the adoption of holistic advocacy strategies for the future.
In 2011, the European Roma Rights Centre, the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, the Open Society Foundations and the Czech League of Human Rights sent a shadow report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with regard to the Czech Republic. The report focused on inclusive education for all children. As a result of our intervention, the Committee was concerned about “de facto exclusion of children with disabilities from mainstream schools” and recommended in its concluding observations, that the State party “[e]nsure the provision of adequate financial, technical and human resources for schools to effectively provide mainstream education for children with disabilities; and amend its legislation to prohibit schools from refusing children on the grounds of insufficient material resources.” (para 52(a).)
In April 2011, MDAC sent written comments to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with regard to Slovakia, and inclusive education was a key topic of reflection. In December 2011, MDAC made an oral submission to this UN Committee on the right to education in Bulgaria, which resulted in the Committee’s November 2012 concluding observations that, “Roma children and children with disabilities continue to be victims of segregation in the school system.” The Committee recommended that Bulgarian government “pursue its efforts to combat the segregation in schools of Roma children and children with disabilities. In this regard, the State party should ensure the effective enforcement of the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Public Education Act and it should raise awareness of these laws among teachers and the population at large” (paragraph 22).
MDAC together with Hungarian NGOs successfully advocated before the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a result of which the concluding observations which were adopted on 21 September 2012, pointed out that the Hungarian government have to “allocate sufficient resources for the development of an inclusive education system for children with disabilities” and “provide students with disabilities with the required support within the general education system” (paragraph 41). Furthermore, the Committee urged the government “to develop programmes to ensure that Roma children with disabilities are included in mainstream education programmes” (paragraph 42).
On 29 January 2013 the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the case of Horváth and Kiss v. Hungary on 29 January 2013. The case concerned two Roma boys who as the result of being misdiagnosed as having a disability, were educated in the segregated ‘special’ education system. In February 2013, MDAC, Inclusion Europe and Inclusion International issued a statement on this case pointing out that it does not concern only the pattern of ethnicity-based discrimination but it has strong implications on combating discrimination on the basis of disability too.