Leave No Child Behind: Providing Inclusive Education to Children With Disabilities
Among people with disabilities, individuals living with intellectual disabilities experience the highest degree of discrimination when it comes to accessing education, noted attendees at an UN-hosted conference in New York on World Down Syndrome Day, March 21, 2019.
“To achieve the goal of inclusive education, we must recognize the human dignity of these individuals and believe in their abilities to participate and be present in society,” said panelist Rosangela Berman-Bieler, UNICEF’s representative for children with disabilities.
The conference concluded with an announcement that international guidelines on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD)—which would also address inclusive education for people with disabilities—would soon be made public.
How to Provide Inclusive Education
Children with disabilities are severely disadvantaged when it comes to their human and civil rights, noted Berman-Bieler, who stated that 50 percent of children with disabilities around the world are not enrolled in schools while those who are registered are exposed to lower quality education than their peers.
“That is why education is so important for these individuals, so they can achieve independence as well as become aware of their rights,” said the UNICEF rep.
Berman-Bieler added that inclusive education involves not only ending the segregation and isolation of children with disabilities but also facilitating higher quality education for them based on guidelines involving special training for educators as well as best methods for educating children with disabilities, including Down syndrome.
Reps from several countries, including individuals living with Down syndrome as well as legal and social activists, were also in attendance.
Harvard Professor Thomas Hehir pointed to research showing that children educated in general or mainstream schools schools exhibit higher graduation rates and abilities to conduct an independent life than children enrolled in “special” schools.
Emphasizing the importance of properly training educators on how to deal with children with disabilities he added, “Teachers should feel that the presence of students with disabilities makes them better teachers.”
Another panelist, Ignacio Calderón, a professor of education at the University of Málaga in Spain, noted, “It is not Down syndrome that causes harm but the main harm stems from discrimination against individuals with Down syndrome.”
Brazilian social entrepreneur Rodrigo Mendez described the basic characteristics of an inclusive school as:
- Avoiding segregation
- Implementing a holistic approach to diversity and differences among students
- Providing inclusive, equal, high-quality education to all students
- Focusing on developing the unique abilities of each student
- Considering students’ living conditions
- Maintaining constant communication with students and their guardians
“The realization of inclusive and equal education for children with disabilities is a crucial step in the struggle against poverty,” noted Sue Swenson, the president of the US-based Inclusion International organization.
“All people in society, regardless of the issue of disability, have the right to employment and participation in society,” said Swenson.
“The classroom experience should be the same for everyone and this requires not only training teachers but also providing education to all students and classmates,” she added.