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International Policies on Inclusionlocked

International Policies on Inclusionlocked

  • Bronagh ByrneBronagh ByrneQueen's University Belfast

Summary

The education of children and young people with disabilities and the appropriate form this should take is an issue with which countries across the world are grappling. This challenge has not been assisted by the diverse interpretations of “inclusion” within and between States. The international community, in the form of the United Nations (UN), its associated treaty bodies, and its related agencies have taken on an increasingly critical role in working with countries to develop some kind of global consensus on how inclusion should be defined, its core features, and what it should look like in practice. The conclusions of discussions on these issues have emerged in the form of declarations, treaties, general comments, and guidelines, which countries across the world are expected to adhere to, to varying extents. Together, these constitute a set of international policies and benchmarks on inclusion in an educational context, informing and shaping contemporary national policy and practice. At its core is the underlying principle that children and young people with disabilities have a fundamental right to education without discrimination. Examination of international discourse on inclusion indicates that its meaning, form, and content has become more refined, with increasing emphasis being placed on the quality of inclusive practice as opposed to merely questioning its merits.

Subjects

  • Education, Health, and Social Services
  • Educational Politics and Policy
  • Education and Society

The International Human Rights System

The move toward inclusive education in countries globally has been heavily influenced by international bodies such as the United Nations (UN), its treaty bodies, and its specialized agencies, such as the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is no coincidence. The UN is, as of 2020, made up of 193 Member States from across the world. The mission and work of the UN is guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter of 1945. Its unique international character means that the UN can develop a consensus and take action on a wide range of pertinent issues. Education, and since the 1990s in various forms, education for people with disabilities, has been one of those issues. Each Member State is a member of the UN General Assembly, a key forum through which issues and agreements are debated and negotiated.1

A key role of the UN lies in the protection and promotion of human rights, including the right to education. It does this through a range of legal instruments. The basis for the UN’s focus on human rights is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. This document set out, for the first time, fundamental and universal human rights for all. Among the agreed rights to be protected are the rights to: non-discrimination; life, liberty, and security; property; marry and found a family; freedom of opinion and expression; work; social security and an adequate standard of living; rest and leisure; and education. The UDHR recognizes that human rights cannot be taken for granted but require positive and negative actions from States to ensure their realization. It has become the most important document of its kind for the modern era, and it forms the basis of many legally binding national and international laws. In 1966, following much discussion of how human rights should be categorized, the General Assembly adopted two separate, legally binding treaties—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Together, these instruments have become known as the International Bill of Rights. Since then, the international community has developed a number of human rights instruments setting out the various principles, standards, and rights to which every human being is entitled. These include the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (1965), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) (1984), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989), the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW) (1990), and the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). These treaties constitute the heart of international human rights law.

International human rights instruments include international treaties and are also known as protocols, covenants, or conventions. These documents are forms of international “hard law.” They carry much more weight than “declarations” and are legally binding upon States that ratify them according to the rules of international law. These instruments therefore act as a strong moral and legal compass for the ways in which people should be treated in society. Each state party to a treaty has an obligation to take steps to ensure that everyone in the state can enjoy the rights set out in the treaty. Treaties are monitored by specific treaty bodies made up of a committee of independent experts that monitor implementation. For example, the UN CRPD is monitored by a Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. When a state ratifies an international treaty, it becomes a “State party” and assumes an obligation to submit periodic reports to the treaty bodies on the measures it has taken to implement the provisions of particular treaties. These reports are examined by the treaty bodies and recommendations produced in the form of “Concluding Observations.” In addition, it has become common practice for treaty bodies to produce “General Comments,” elaborating on the meaning and substance of particular rights. While these are not in themselves legally binding, they are understood as authoritative interpretations of treaties and act as guidance to States in the implementation of rights and in the development of policy and practice at national/state level.

By contrast, “soft law” encompasses declarations, statements, rules, and standards, such as the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959), the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993), and the Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education (1994). Although these are not legally binding (hence are “soft”), they reflect international consensus on a particular issue and represent morally binding agreements and obligations. Declarations often provide the basis for later development of binding legal instruments. Also of importance are the “special procedures” of the Human Rights Council. These allow for the appointment of independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective and are known as “Special Rapporteurs.” A Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities was formally established in 2014 while a Special Rapporteur on the right to education was established in 1998.

Foundations: The Right to Receive an Education

Before exploring international discourse on inclusive education, it is important to highlight how international education policy has evolved over time for children and young people with disabilities, from the right to receive an education per se and what the aims of education should be, to the form of educational placement to which a child with a disability is entitled, and, since the 1990s to what inclusive education should look like in practice. A general right to education for all (EFA) was proclaimed by Article 26 of the UDHR in 1948. This was reaffirmed and made binding by Article 13(1) of the ICESCR (1966) and elaborated upon by Articles 28 and 29 of the CRC (1989).2

Article 13(1) of ICESCR lays down the right of everyone to education while 13(2) requires states parties to realize the right to education by ensuring that primary education is “compulsory and available free to all” and secondary education be made “generally available and accessible to all” but not compulsory. Article 13(3) enshrines the right of parents to choose their child’s school and to ensure that the education provided conforms with their own convictions. Article 13(3) must also be read in light of Article 2(2) of the treaty, which requires ICESCR rights to be guaranteed to all without discrimination. Even though children with disabilities are not explicitly referred to in ICESCR, they are, theoretically, able to call upon its provisions simply because they are human beings.

Similar provisions are established in Articles 28 and 29 of the CRC. The CRC specifies that all children have the right to an education designed to provide them with life skills and which strengthens their capacity to enjoy the full range of human rights. “Education” in this context goes beyond formal schooling to embrace the broad range of life experiences and learning processes which enable all children, individually and collectively, to fully develop their personalities, talents, and abilities and to live “a full and satisfying life within society” (UN, 2001, para. 2). The right to education in the CRC must also be read in light of the CRC’s four cross-cutting principles; that is, the right not to be discriminated against (Article 2); that best interests be a primary consideration (Article 3); the right to life, survival, and development (Article 6); and the right for all children to express their views and for those views to be given due weight in all matters affecting them (Article 12). These cross-cutting principles are of particular importance since Article 2 CRC, adopted in 1989, explicitly prohibited discrimination on the grounds of disability for the first time in international law.

Also for the first time in international law, the CRC encompasses a specific article on children with disabilities. Article 23 asserts, inter alia, that children with disabilities should enjoy a “full and decent life,” receive “special care,” and that assistance should be provided to ensure that the child has effective access to and receives education “in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development.” However, the provision and extent of this assistance is dependent upon the availability of resources, meaning that assistance can be justifiably limited if resources are limited. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has made it clear that children and young people with disabilities have the same right to education as all other children and “shall enjoy this right without any discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity” (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006, para. 45). To this end, the Committee has stated:

[E]ffective access of children with disabilities to education has to be ensured to promote the development of the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential . . . The Convention recognizes the need for modification to school practices and for training of regular teachers to prepare them to teach children with diverse abilities and ensure that they achieve positive educational outcomes.

(UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006, para. 45)

Children with disabilities are also able to call upon rights accorded to people with disabilities more generally. For example, Principle 6 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975) states:

Disabled persons have the right to medical, psychological, and functional treatment, including prosthetic and orthotic appliances, to medical and social rehabilitation, education, vocational training and rehabilitation, aid, counselling, placement services and other services which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum and will hasten the processes of their social integration or reintegration.

As can be seen, this right, located in soft law, is firmly embedded in an individual model of disability (Barnes, Mercer, & Shakespeare, 2010; Oliver, 1996), wherein education becomes a form of “functional treatment.” As such, this has not been helpful in progressing educational rights for children with disabilities since the focus here has been on the types of “treatment” a child should receive rather than on the environmental barriers evident in society or ways of overcoming these. Rule 6 of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993) calls upon states to “recognize the principle of equal primary, secondary and, tertiary educational opportunities for children, youth, and adults with disabilities in integrated settings.” The most detailed articulation of the right to education for children and young people with disabilities is contained in the CRPD. Article 24 of the CRPD affirms the right of people with disabilities to education and draws upon other treaties in establishing the aims at which education should be directed. This makes it clear that people with disabilities, like those without disabilities, have the same entitlement to an effective education; have diverse talents and abilities which must be nurtured and maximized; and are full and equal members of society. While a general right to education for children with disabilities appears to be fairly clear, this does not tell us what kind of education they have a right to nor the type of support to which they are entitled.

The Question of Educational Placement

Core to the education debate for children and young people with disabilities has been the distinction between segregated and inclusive education (Slee, 2006, 2001). The global trend toward “mainstream” and inclusive forms of education for such children and young people has clear parallels in, and has been driven by, international law. However, it is since 2006 that the meaning of “inclusion” at this level has become more focused.

Rule 6 of the 1993 Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities called upon states to accommodate children with disabilities within “integrated settings” and to ensure that the education of children with disabilities is “an integral part of the educational system.” In so doing, it emphasized that adequate accessibility and support services should be provided. The Rules also allow for special (that is, segregated) education to be considered “in situations where the general school system does not yet adequately meet the needs of all persons with disabilities” (UN, 1993). The quality of such education should reflect the same standards and ambitions as general education and be closely linked to it. The Rules also call upon states to aim for the gradual integration of special education services into mainstream education. Segregated education is, in this context, viewed as a temporary measure, ultimately aimed at “preparing children with disabilities for education in the general school system” (UN, 1993). A survey carried out for the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability on the implementation of the Standard Rules in 2006 highlighted that in many countries practice fell far short of that stipulated in the Rules. In particular, in many states there was no legislative requirement to include children with disabilities in mainstream settings (UN, 2006). The Standard Rules were followed by the UNESCO Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education in 1994. Adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education, the Statement calls upon governments to “adopt as a matter of law or policy the principle of inclusive education, enrolling all children in regular schools, unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise” (UNESCO, 1994, section 3). Indeed:

Assignment of children to special schools—or special classes or sections within a school on a permanent basis—should be the exception, to be recommended only in those infrequent cases where it is clearly demonstrated that education in regular classrooms is incapable of meeting a child’s educational or social needs or when it is required for the welfare of the child or that of other children.

(UNESCO, 1994, para. 8)

Further insight into the right to “inclusive” education in binding international law, prior to the CRPD, can be inferred from the work of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. While both ICESCR and the CRC are themselves silent on the issue, their respective Committees have, albeit to varying degrees, elaborated upon the educational rights of people with disabilities in their General Comments. The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, drawing on Tomasevski’s “4-A Schema” (UN, 1999), has affirmed that educational institutions and programs for everyone should be available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1999). Moreover, it affirms that these features are “common to education in all its forms and at all levels” (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1999, para. 35) and that the prohibition against discrimination applies “fully and immediately to all aspects of education”(para. 31). ICESCR’s 1994 General Comment on people with disabilities pays scant attention to educational rights, simply referring to the Standard Rules of the previous year and stating that “In order to implement such an approach, States should ensure that teachers are trained to educate children with disabilities within regular schools and that the necessary equipment and support are available to bring persons with disabilities up to the same level of education as their non-disabled peers” (UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1994, para. 35). Thus, there is no requirement for the curriculum to be adapted for children with disabilities other than for support to be provided to enable them to access an already existing curriculum and pre-existing educational practices more generally.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has positively progressed the debate on the educational rights and placement of children with disabilities. In its first General Comment, on the aims of education in 2001, the Committee recognized the pervasive discrimination experienced by children with disabilities in educational settings (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2001, para. 10) and stipulated that the right to education for all children is not only a matter of access, but also of content (para. 3), educational processes, pedagogical methods, and the environment in which education takes place (para. 8). In addition, they recognized that “approaches which do no more than seek to superimpose the aims and values of [Article 29(1)] on the existing system without encouraging any deeper changes are clearly inadequate” (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2001, para. 18). Significantly, in their debate during the Day of General Discussion on the rights of children with disabilities, the Committee highlighted the distinction between concepts of integration and inclusion and recognized, “Policies of integration tended to seek to change the child in order to fit into the school. Inclusion, on the other hand, sought to change the school environment in order to meet the needs of the disabled child” (UN, 1997, para. 335). The Committee on the Rights of the Child has paid attention to issues of educational placement in its General Comment on children with disabilities, clearly stating that “inclusive education should be the goal of educating children with disabilities” (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006, para. 66). The paragraph goes on to state:

The manner and form of inclusion must be dictated by the individual educational needs of the child, since the education of some children with disabilities requires a kind of support which may not be readily available in the regular school system . . . the Committee underlines that the extent of inclusion within the general education system may vary. A continuum of services and programme options must be maintained in circumstances where fully inclusive education is not feasible to achieve in the immediate future . . . [T]he term inclusive may have different meanings . . .. Inclusion may range from full-time placement of all students with disabilities into one regular classroom or placement into the regular classroom with varying degree of inclusion, including a certain portion of special education.

The spectrum of inclusion as presented by the Committee demonstrates the difficulty in reaching a global consensus across Member States on precisely what constitutes “inclusion” and what type of educational placement this should entail. It recognizes the complexity of meaningful inclusion in mainstream education for those with profound impairments; however, doing so has the downside of removing the burden from mainstream education settings to undergo significant change and adaptation so long as an alternative remains (Byrne, 2012). A 2007 report produced by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, specifically on the right to education of people with disabilities, stated that educational systems should no longer view people with disabilities as “problems to be fixed,” but rather should respond positively to pupil diversity and approach individual differences as opportunities to enrich learning for all. Moreover, it proposed that:

“Integration,” often in the guise, or in the place, of true inclusion in education, has created its own difficulties. Attempts to a simple integration into mainstream schools without accompanying structural changes (for instance, organization, curriculum and teaching and learning strategies) have been shown and will continue for a variety of reasons, to fail to meet the educational rights of persons with disabilities. Indeed, integration may simply lead to exclusion in the mainstream rather than in special schools.

(UN, 2007, para. 12)

Here we can see that extensive attention is paid to the need for radical structural and cultural change and value shifts in ensuring the right to education for children with disabilities. In critiquing approaches based on mere integration, the Special Rapporteur points out that “the system that excludes cannot be the same system that includes or promises to include . . . One only has to think of the many forms of exclusionary inclusion, such as so-called ‘integrated education,’ which give rise to separation based on the subjective effects of ‘being included’” (UN, 2007, para. 50). In assessing global approaches to the education of children with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur highlighted that the concept of inclusion did not seem to be clearly recognized in all countries, many of which identified it with integrated education. For example, it is highlighted how in African and Asian countries, the term “inclusive education” was used to refer to the process of incorporating children with disabilities into the regular education system without any reference to this being a form of integrated education, while in Latin America, both “inclusion” and “integration” were mentioned as prerequisites for the implementation of the right to education for children with disabilities, but again, no clear differentiation was made between these concepts (UN, 2007, para. 54). Of particular importance here is the statement made by the Special Rapporteur that “the existing human rights legal and programmatic frameworks clearly recognize inclusive education as an indispensable element of the right to education for persons with disabilities” (UN, 2007, para. 81).

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UNCRPD and its Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 13, 2006. A form of “hard” law, it opened for signature on March 30, 2007 and came into force on May 3, 2008. Significant as the first human rights treaty to be drafted by those to whom the treaty was targeted, the CRPD has been heralded as “ground-breaking” (Waddington, 2008, p. 111). It is also the first treaty which itself spells out in detail the type of education to which people with disabilities are entitled. Article 24 of the CRPD focuses on education and requires states parties to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels. The aims of an inclusive education system are threefold; first, 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; second, the development by people with disabilities of their personality, talents, and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential; and third, to enable people with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society (Article 24(1)). It obliges states to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, that they are able to access an inclusive, quality, and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live, and that they are provided with support to facilitate their effective education. The rest of Article 24 sets out entitlements in relation to the use of alternative means of learning and formats of communication including the use of Braille, sign language, and promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community through education. The need for teachers to receive training in disability awareness, educational techniques, and materials to support students with disabilities is also specified.

These core rights have been expanded upon by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in a substantive General Comment on the right to inclusive education, adopted by the UN on November 25, 2016 (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016). The 21-page document is significant for the clear message it conveys on the scope and content of “inclusive education” for the 21st century, educational placement, and, in particular, on the role of special schools therein. The General Comment takes, as its starting point, the view that inclusive education is “central to achieving high-quality education for all learners, including those with disabilities, and for the development of inclusive, peaceful, and fair societies” (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016, p. 1). In so doing, it acknowledged the progress that has been made in the development of international legislation and policies on inclusion, but noted that despite this profound challenges persist, evidenced by the significant numbers of people with disabilities who continue to be denied the right to education at all, or, where this is provided, only in primarily segregated settings. In establishing the characteristics of inclusive education, the General Comment emphasizes that:

Inclusion involves a process of systemic reform embodying changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education to overcome barriers with a vision serving to provide all students of the relevant age range with an equitable and participatory learning experience and the environment that best corresponds to their requirements and preferences. Placing students with disabilities within mainstream classes without accompanying structural changes to, for example, organisation, curriculum and teaching and learning strategies, does not constitute inclusion.

(UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016, p. 3)

The core features of inclusive education are identified by the Committee as necessitating:

A “whole systems” approach.

A “whole educational” environment.

A “whole person” approach.

Supported teachers.

Respect for and value of diversity.

A learning-friendly environment.

Effective transitions.

Recognition of partnerships.

Monitoring (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016, pp. 4–5).

Furthermore, the Committee draws on the recommendation of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights that, to fulfill the right to inclusive education, the education system must comprise four interrelated features:

Availability: Education must be available to people with disabilities at all levels.

Accessibility: Educational institutions and programs must be accessible to everyone, without discrimination, including buildings, information, and communication tools; the curriculum, educational materials, teaching methods, assessments and language; and support services, with a particular focus on universal design.

Acceptability: The form and substance of education provided must be acceptable to all and respect the requirements, cultures, views, and languages of people with disabilities.

Adaptability: The education environment should be adaptable for people with disabilities. People with disabilities should be able to attend primary and secondary schools in the communities where they live and these institutions should provide accessible transportation. People with disabilities must be provided with reasonable accommodation so they can have access to education on an equal basis with others (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016, pp. 6–8).

The implication throughout the General Comment is that the best form of education is in the mainstream system rather than in special or segregated placements. The document made two direct comments to this end. First, it noted that as the right to inclusive education is, as per international law, an economic, social, and cultural right, it is subject to “progressive realisation.” In other words, states parties have a “specific and continuing obligation to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards the full realization of Article 24” (UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2016, p. 11). Here, the Committee specified that progressive realization, as required, is “not compatible with sustaining two systems of education: a mainstream education system and a special/segregated education system” (p. 11). Further, the Committee urges states parties to “transfer resources from segregated to inclusive environments” (p. 19). The core messages have been reaffirmed in the Committee’s concluding observations to states parties across the world following the General Comment where it expressed concern about the persistence of segregated education (e.g., in relation to Canada in 2017, the United Kingdom in 2017, Portugal in 2016, Azerbaijan in 2014, and Australia in 2013) to the extent that it has noted that the establishment of “model schools” for children who are deaf, blind, deaf blind, visually impaired, or autistic is “a form of segregation and discrimination” in its concluding observations to Portugal in 2016. Other issues of concern raised in concluding observations to states parties include the need for greater teacher training and awareness, lack of curriculum accessibility, urban/rural divide, lack of data on inclusive education, lack of reasonable adjustments, admissions refusal, and quality concerns.

The CRPD, with its Article 24 and its General Comment, is the most comprehensive international policy in existence on inclusive education. As a legally binding instrument on those countries who have ratified it, the CRPD acts as both a moral and legal guide to the expected normative standards on inclusion worldwide.

EFA

The last substantive section of this article explores the contribution of the EFA policy discourse on inclusion. EFA is a global movement led by a UN agency: UNESCO. While its weighting is effectively superseded by the CRPD with its “hard law” status, it is important to be mindful of the EFA debate given its global standing, the collaborative means by which it came into being, and its role in mainstreaming the inclusion and disability debate in global policy discourse more generally.

The EFA agenda began in 1990 with the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand. The 1990 EFA goals were reaffirmed and expanded upon at the World Education Forum in 2000 in Dakar, Senegal. These conferences are recognized as milestones in international education (Kiuppis, 2014; Miles & Singal, 2010). At the core of the EFA movement is a desire to ensure quality basic education for everyone; however, reference to disability or “special education” was minimal in early EFA documentation. At the Jomtien conference, delegates adopted a World Declaration on Education for All that made clear that education was a fundamental right for all. Article 1 of the Declaration specified that “Every person—child, youth and adult—shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities to meet their basic learning needs.” Article3(5) made specific reference to disability and emphasized that “the learning needs of the disabled demand special attention. Steps need to be taken to provide equal access to education to every category of disabled persons as an integral part of the education system.” The Jomtien Declaration was accompanied by a Framework for Action that provided targets and strategies for addressing the basic learning needs of all. The 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All: Meeting our Collective Commitments. It also established the new millennium development goal (MDG) of providing every girl and boy with primary school education by 2015 and assessing progress toward EFA since Jomtien. The Dakar Framework for Action stated that “the heart of EFA lies at country level” and affirmed that “no countries seriously committed to education for all will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.” While reference to disability and inclusion was minimal once again, it did draw on some of the concepts developed in the 1994 Salamanca Statement. Goal 1 of the 2000 EFA Framework referred to “the care and education of children with special need” as a priority area. Importantly, in assessing progress since Jomtien, the report stated:

Concern about inclusion has evolved from a struggle on behalf of children “having special needs” into one that challenges all exclusionary policies and practices in education as they relate to the curriculum, culture, and local centres of learning. Instead of focusing on preparing children to fit into existing schools, the new emphasis focuses on preparing schools so that they can deliberately reach out to all children. It also recognizes that gains in access have not always been accompanied by increases in quality.

(UNESCO, 2000, p. 18)

Through Dakar, governments across the world presented EFA as an inclusive concept and sought to develop strategies to achieve safe, healthy, and inclusive environments for all children. The commitment to EFA was reiterated in the eight MDGs developed by the international community. The MDGs are part of a global commitment to building a better world in the 21st century by eliminating global poverty, and promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. While the second MDG sought to ensure that all boys and girls completed a full course of primary schooling by 2015, this has been heavily criticized for overlooking the education of children and young people with disabilities and focusing on a broad quantitative enrolment measures rather than qualitative educational experiences (Groce, 2011). Disability was not explicitly referenced in any of the eight goals, 21 targets, or 60 indicators. An EFA flagship initiative “The Right to Education for Persons with Disabilities: Towards Inclusion” was established in 2002 following these concerns.

The ending of the MDGs in 2015 was followed by the launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2016. The 2030 Agenda calls on countries to achieve 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. SDG 4 is specific to education and seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The significance of SDG 4 lies in its explicit commitment to inclusive education. The content and implementation of SDG 4 is supported by the Incheon Declaration and the Education 2030 Framework for Action (2015), which provides guidance on how to translate SDG 4 into practice. As the driving force behind SDG 4, the Incheon Declaration prioritizes the language of inclusion. Paragraph 7 of the Declaration states:

Inclusion and equity in and through education is the cornerstone of a transformative education agenda, and we therefore commit to addressing all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities, and inequalities in access, participation, and learning outcomes. No education target should be considered met unless met by all. We therefore commit to making the necessary changes in education policies and focusing our efforts on the most disadvantaged, especially those with disabilities, to ensure that no one is left behind.

(UNESCO, 2015, para. 7)

SDG 4 has 10 targets covering different aspects of education. Seven of the targets relate to expected outcomes and three are means of achieving these targets. The targets most relevant to inclusive education for children and young people with disabilities are encompassed within Target 4.5 and Target 4.a. Target 4.5 aims to “by 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations,” while Target 4.a aims to “build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability, and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive, and effective learning environments for all.” While inclusion is clearly included in both the SDGs and its associated targets, there has been criticism that this alone is not enough. Leonard Cheshire Disability (2017), for example, has argued that there is an urgent need for action in order to realize the full potential of the SDGs for people with disabilities. They have expressed concern that there needs to be critical reflection on what inclusion of disability in the SDGs means and that more detailed consideration needs to be given to how this will operate in practice.

Conclusion

International policies on inclusion have clearly evolved since the 1975 Standard Rules. Of notable import is the shifting emphasis from a general right to education for people with disabilities in both mainstream and special education settings, to a much more definitive move away from special education settings toward systemic change in mainstream environments. Indeed, the observation of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that segregated educational placements are a form of discrimination suggests that international policies on inclusion have acquired much more stringent benchmarks than ever before. The ideal of inclusion and what inclusive environments should look like are undoubtedly much clearer than ever before, with the CRPD providing the most comprehensive blueprint on how this can and should be achieved across the world. Where this leaves the myriad of special education settings that are in existence in 2020 and increasingly subject to critique is less clearly determined. This issue needs to be part of the overarching debate so that countries, irrespective of their starting point, can make the transition from segregation to meaningful inclusion.

Appendix

Figure 1A. Status of CRC and CRPD Ratification by State

State

Convention on the Rights of the Child (Ratified)

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Ratified)

Afghanistan

Y

Y

Albania

Y

Y

Algeria

Y

Y

Andorra

Y

Y

Angola

Y

Y

Antigua & Barbuda

Y

Y

Argentina

Y

Y

Armenia

Y

Y

Australia

Y

Y

Austria

Y

Y

Azerbaijan

Y

Y

Bahamas

Y

Y

Bahrain

Y

Y

Bangladesh

Y

Y

Barbados

Y

Y

Belarus

Y

Y

Belgium

Y

Y

Belize

Y

Y

Benin

Y

Y

Bhutan

Y

N

Bolivia

Y

Y

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Y

Y

Botswana

Y

N

Brazil

Y

Y

Brunei Darussalam

Y

Y

Bulgaria

Y

Y

Burkina Faso

Y

Y

Cabo Verde

Y

Y

Cambodia

Y

Y

Cameroon

Y

N

Canada

Y

Y

Central African Republic

Y

Y

Chad

Y

N

Chile

Y

Y

China

Y

Y

Colombia

Y

Y

Comoros

Y

Y

Congo

Y

Y

Cook Islands

Y

Y

Costa Rica

Y

Y

Côte d’Ivoire

Y

Y

Croatia

Y

Y

Cuba

Y

Y

Cyprus

Y

Y

Czech Republic

Y

Y

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Y

Y

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Y

Y

Denmark

Y

Y

Djibouti

Y

Y

Dominica

Y

Y

Dominican Republic

Y

Y

Ecuador

Y

Y

Egypt

Y

Y

El Salvador

Y

Y

Equatorial Guinea

Y

N

Eritrea

Y

N

Estonia

Y

Y

Ethiopia

Y

Y

Fiji

Y

Y

Finland

Y

Y

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Y

Y

France

Y

Y

Gabon

Y

Y

Gambia

Y

Y

Georgia

Y

Y

Germany

Y

Y

Ghana

Y

Y

Greece

Y

Y

Grenada

Y

Y

Guatemala

Y

Y

Guinea

Y

Y

Guinea-Bissau

Y

Y

Guyana

Y

Y

Haiti

Y

Y

Holy See

Y

N

Honduras

Y

Y

Hungary

Y

Y

Iceland

Y

Y

India

Y

Y

Indonesia

Y

Y

Iran (Islamic Republic of)

Y

Y

Iraq

Y

Y

Ireland

Y

Y

Israel

Y

Y

Italy

Y

Y

Jamaica

Y

Y

Japan

Y

Y

Jordan

Y

Y

Kazakhstan

Y

Y

Kenya

Y

Y

Kiribati

Y

Y

Kuwait

Y

Y

Kyrgyzstan

Y

N

Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Y

Y

Latvia

Y

Y

Lebanon

Y

N

Lesotho

Y

Y

Liberia

Y

Y

Libya

Y

Y

Liechtenstein

Y

N

Lithuania

Y

Y

Luxembourg

Y

Y

Madagascar

Y

Y

Malawi

Y

Y

Malaysia

Y

Y

Maldives

Y

Y

Mali

Y

Y

Malta

Y

Y

Marshall Islands

Y

Y

Mauritania

Y

Y

Mauritius

Y

Y

Mexico

Y

Y

Micronesia (Federated States of)

Y

Y

Monaco

Y

Y

Mongolia

Y

Y

Montenegro

Y

Y

Morocco

Y

Y

Mozambique

Y

Y

Myanmar

Y

Y

Namibia

Y

Y

Nauru

Y

Y

Nepal

Y

Y

Netherlands

Y

Y

New Zealand

Y

Y

Nicaragua

Y

Y

Niger

Y

Y

Nigeria

Y

Y

Niue

Y

N

Norway

Y

Y

Oman

Y

Y

Pakistan

Y

Y

Palau

Y

Y

Panama

Y

Y

Papua New Guinea

Y

Y

Paraguay

Y

Y

Peru

Y

Y

Philippines

Y

Y

Poland

Y

Y

Portugal

Y

Y

Qatar

Y

Y

Republic of Korea

Y

Y

Republic of Moldova

Y

Y

Romania

Y

Y

Russian Federation

Y

Y

Rwanda

Y

Y

Saint Kitts & Nevis

Y

N

Saint Lucia

Y

N

Saint Vincent & the Grenadines

Y

Y

Samoa

Y

Y

San Marino

Y

Y

São Tomé & Principe

Y

Y

Saudi Arabia

Y

Y

Senegal

Y

Y

Serbia

Y

Y

Seychelles

Y

Y

Sierra Leone

Y

Y

Singapore

Y

Y

Slovakia

Y

Y

Slovenia

Y

Y

Solomon Islands

Y

N

Somalia

Y

N

South Africa

Y

Y

South Sudan

Y

N

Spain

Y

Y

Sri Lanka

Y

Y

State of Palestine

Y

Y

Sudan

Y

Y

Suriname

Y

Y

Swaziland

Y

Y

Sweden

Y

Y

Switzerland

Y

Y

Syrian Arab Republic

Y

Y

Tajikistan

Y

N

Thailand

Y

Y

Timor-Leste

Y

N

Togo

Y

Y

Tonga

Y

N

Trinidad & Tobago

Y

Y

Tunisia

Y

Y

Turkey

Y

Y

Turkmenistan

Y

Y

Tuvalu

Y

Y

Uganda

Y

Y

Ukraine

Y

Y

United Arab Emirates

Y

Y

United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland

Y

Y

United Republic of Tanzania

Y

Y

United States of America

N

N

Uruguay

Y

Y

Uzbekistan

Y

N

Vanuatu

Y

Y

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)

Y

Y

Vietnam

Y

N

Yemen

Y

Y

Zambia

Y

N

Zimbabwe

Y

Y

Key: Y indicates a state has ratified the treaty; N indicates a state has not ratified the treaty.

Further Reading

  • Byrne, B. (2013). Hidden contradictions and conditionality: Conceptualisations of inclusive education in international law. Disability and Society, 28(2), 232–244.
  • de Beco, G. (2017). The right to inclusive education according to Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Background, requirements and (remaining) questions. Netherlands Quarterly on Human Rights, 32(3), 263–287.

References

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Notes

  • 1. This article focuses on international policies on inclusion as developed by the UN. As such, it does not focus on the policies of particular regions or individual countries. For a list of countries that have ratified key UN treaties relevant to this article, namely the CRC and the CRPD, see Appendix.

  • 2. The ICCPR does not proclaim a general right to education but enshrines the right of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in accordance with their own convictions in Article 18(4).