The first UN convention of the millennium: inclusive education is a right!
Here, Richard reflects on the significance of the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 13 December 2006, and has been signed by 101 governments so far. Richard highlights its importance as a lobbying tool to make education inclusive for all children and young people.
This was a difficult document to negotiate because of the diverse views around the world on this issue. Yet the negotiators succeeded in shifting the position on education from one of a choice between segregated or mainstream education, to the right to attend inclusive primary and secondary schools.
It is a historic document, the first UN Convention:
- in which civil society (and disabled people, in particular) played such a central role throughout the negotiations
- to be negotiated within such a short time (five years)
- which includes provision for international co-operation – to make the Convention a reality.
It is based on a ‘paradigm shift’ from a medical model (seeing the problem in the person) to a social model approach (seeing the problem in society and the barriers it creates for disabled people). The Convention covers all areas of life and is based on strong principles of equality.
The Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee which negotiated the Convention applauded the role that disabled people and their organisations played in the process. Over 80 of the state party representatives were disabled people at the last session in August 2006. Over 800 civil society organisations took part in the negotiations, though only a few were from the South.
A ‘Disability Caucus’ of over 100 organisations spoke directly with governments as they negotiated. Now disabled peoples’ organisations must take the lead in convincing governments to build capacity to develop inclusive education.
Article 24 – Education
Article 24 requires all signatories to ensure that all disabled children and young people “can access an inclusive, quality, free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live” (Art 24 2b).
It also states that there should be, “reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements” (Art 24 2c) and that support should be provided, “within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education” (Art 24 2d).
The following section of the article allows for the possibility of segregated education for children with sensory impairments:
“Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf and deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development” (Art 24 3c).
What is significant about Article 24?
- All disabled children are entitled to education in an ‘inclusive system’.
- It should no longer be possible for governments to make children repeat grades if they fail an end of year test.
- Disabled people are not excluded from the general education system on the grounds of disability.
- The focus must be on removing barriers to the development (to their fullest potential) of disabled people’s personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities.
- All disabled people should receive the support they need within the general education system.
- Large classes make inclusive education more difficult – this should be challenged when implementing the Convention.
- The Convention outlaws demeaning and degrading treatment and torture (e.g. corporal punishment).
- Every state will need to engage with disabled people’s organisations in implementing this Article and the Convention.
- Disabled people’s organisations need to develop their capacity to advocate for inclusive education.
- All disabled children and learners need to be consulted (Article 7).
Many international NGOs are now seeking to lead the implementation process. This must not happen. Organisations led by disabled people need to lead. For more information on this, see the Manifesto for Disability Equality in Development (www.un-convention.info/manifesto.html).
The important task now is to build the capacity of disabled people’s organisations to advocate for inclusive education. They need to work with allies who are committed to developing inclusive education to ensure effective programmes in every country. We need to increase South-South and North-South collaboration to make this happen (Article 32).
Richard Rieser is Director of Disability Equality in Education, a disabled-led organisation that provides resources and training for inclusion. He represented the UK Council of Disabled People at the UN negotiations and is keen to support disabled people’s organisations in the South.
Disability Equality in Education (DEE)
Unit 1M, Leroy House,
436, Essex Road,
London N1 3QP, UK
You can download the full Convention text at www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable, or write to DEE for a copy.