Inclusion Now 57

The International Disability Alliance Inclusive Education Global Report

When Article 24 of UNCRPD was being framed at the United Nations (2001-2006) there was much disagreement between sensory impairment organisations and other Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), the former arguing for a right to segregation. This led to a weak and compromised wording.

When Article 24 of UNCRPD was being framed at the United Nations (2001-2006) there was much disagreement between sensory impairment organisations and other Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), the former arguing for a right to segregation. This led to a weak and compromised wording. General Comment No 4 moved this on ten years later, but Disabled children have been largely left out in moves towards general Inclusive Education. The Cali Report UNESCO 2019 does represent progress, but at a time of globally reduced funding for education and massive disruption caused by school closures during the Covid-19 Pandemic, the real problem is one of political will to make inclusion a reality.

The International Disability Alliance (IDA) Inclusive Education Global Report is part of IDA’s Inclusive Education Flagship initiative, a component of the Disability Catalyst Programme funded by the United Kingdom’s newly formed Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) (now known as Department for International Development (DFID). Led by the IDA Inclusive Education Task Team and informed by the experience of national Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs). The Report has now been approved by the IDA Board. The four IDA members on the technical task team were: Diane Richler, Inclusion International (II); Ruth Warwick, the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (IFHOH); Praveen Sukhraj the World Blind Union (WBU); Joseph Murray, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). Additionally, representatives from DPOs in Nepal, NGOs e.g. Leonard Cheshire, Humanity and Inclusion, and Paula Hunt.

The process to reach a cross-disability consensus position involved three technical workshops and exchanges with numerous allies and global, regional and national level DPOs. This global report presents the views of the International Disability Alliance on how to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4):

The report includes recommendations of good practices supported by policies and legislation, leading to truly inclusive education systems. It puts forward measures required to build an inclusive education system, geared towards providing quality education for all children and youth equitably. A critical message is that an inclusive education system is the only way to achieve SDG 4 for all children including Disabled children and youth whoever and wherever they are. Inclusive education requires an educational transformation, which is unachievable if it is considered an add-on to existing education systems. (See Webinar of different parties involved with developing the report and Global Education Monitoring Report 2020 on Inclusive Education).

Points to emphasise from the consensus International Disability Alliance (IDA) reached on inclusion are:

a) Enforcement of non-discrimination and ‘Zero Rejection ’ policies are implemented where ‘Zero Rejection’ policies state explicitly, in part, that no child is refused access to their local school because of their impairment;

b) Significant investments (human, social and financial) are made in recruiting and training qualified teachers, including Disabled teachers, who can provide inclusive and quality learning for all learners;

c) Teacher education and curriculum reforms incorporate the principles of ‘Universal Design for Learning ’, including equal access and participation;

d) Significant investments (human, social and financial) are made in the accessibility of needed infrastructure, materials for teachers, students and parents, curricular and extra-curricular activities, and systems for engaging parents and the community, including the provision of assistive products and technology, and in the training of their use;

e) Well-resourced support services are made available at all levels, to assist all schools and all teachers in providing effective learning for all students, including those with impairments;

f) Special schools and other segregated settings are progressively phased out, while key human resources and knowledge assets are converted into support services for equal access, participation and inclusion by inclusive institutions, such as schools, colleges and community-based support centres;

g) A diversity of languages (including sign languages, tactile sign languages) and modes of communication (easy-to-read, Braille, etc.) are used throughout the system. Priority is given to teachers who are already fluent in their use (i.e., teachers who are deaf) with adequate support provided to ensure all teachers have opportunities to develop fluency;

h) Some learners – with and without impairments – may choose to attend an inclusive school or educational institution away from their community to benefit from quality support and services not yet offered in their community (e.g. bilingual education, braille instruction). Because of their critical role in language acquisition for children who are deaf or deafblind, deaf schools that provide an inclusive bilingual education in a national sign language(s) (visual and tactile) must be maintained and promoted as part of an inclusive education system. Inclusive bilingual education for learners who are deaf or deafblind involves teaching using the national sign language(s) (including tactile sign language) and teaching the country’s written language and the teaching of sign language and Deaf culture. Deaf schools that are not yet providing inclusive bilingual education will be supported in their transition into inclusive bilingual sign/national language schools. These bilingual schools can be open to children and youth who are deaf or deafblind and others wishing to learn and/or use sign language;

i) Phasing out special education settings is going to require civil society to engage with education systems in different ways, to support new practices.

j) In particular, DPOs will have new roles to play within schools (and systems): becoming advisors, providing expert advice to professionals; becoming mentors and role-models for Disabled children and youth – thus, supporting regular schools to welcome and ensure the participation of Disabled children and youth.

Apart from h) this list would have been agreed 20 years ago. As the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report shows there is remarkably little progress to system level change.

The IDA Report puts forward that including Disabled children and youth requires the following minimum conditions:

a) All children/learners have access to quality education in schools where their inclusion requirements are met;

b) All teachers are equipped to ensure that all their students participate in quality learning;

c) Well- resourced support services and resources are available to assist all schools and all teachers to provide inclusive effective learning to all learners including those with impairments;

d) All students succeed in reaching their full academic and social potential with learning outcomes measured against their own wishes, plans and benchmarks.

Whilst the IDA analysis presents a way forward, caution is needed. They argue that specific impairment DPOs should provide the advice to schools and governments on impairment specific adjustments (contained in the Annex of the Report). While these reasonable adjustments and support are needed, in a world where the large majority of Disabled children if in school attend special schools, this is a dangerous strategy that could play lip-service to full inclusion, while reinforcing segregation. The retention of special schools while they transition to inclusive schools is also a dangerous strategy, as the evidence shows they take the extra resources offered and remain an expanded version of themselves. Experience shows the management and accountability measures need to be changed for this transition to be successful.

It is much better if cross-impairment DPO Councils or coalitions, with parents, provide this support and advice drawing on the wealth of experience from their members to cover the full range of impairments. The IDA approach is likely to lead to separate silos, with some groups such as psycho-social left out, rather than full disability equality.

IDA opposes any education setting that does not provide inclusive education in its broadest sense.

IDA proposes that any other settings be phased out, with key human resources and knowledge assets converted – whenever possible – to support equal access and reasonable accommodation towards inclusion. However, sign language access for learners who are deaf and non-visual access to learners who are blind are both essential for meeting the right to education: this access cannot always be provided in local settings. Therefore they argue in h) a breach of the requirement for local provision in UNCRPD (24.2b), and b) Disabled people can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.

Given the lack of funding this sounds remarkably like keeping segregation going into the foreseeable future for a minority and no education for many, as it is not inclusive enough.

By Richard Rieser