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On August 18, 2015, Human Rights Watch released a report, “Complicit in Exclusion’: South Africa’s Failure to Guarantee Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities”, focused on the inclusion of children and young adults with disabilities in South Africa. The research was conducted in five out of South Africa’s nine provinces, and results indicate that children with disabilities face severe discriminatory physical and attitudinal barriers. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated half-a-million children with disabilities do not have access to the education system in South Africa.
An estimated half-a-million children with disabilities do not have access to the education system in South Africa
In 2001, the South African government approved a policy to provide education for all children in inclusive schools, and, in 2007, South Africa was one of the first countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which requires the government to promote an inclusive education system. Furthermore, the government recently claimed it had reached the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of enrolling all children in primary schools by 2015. However, reality appears to be different. Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, clearly stated: “The South African government needs to admit that it is not providing quality education to all of its children – in fact, no schooling at all to many who have disabilities. The job is not done until all children count just the same in the education system.”
“The South African government needs to admit that it is not providing quality education to all of its children – in fact, no schooling at all to many who have disabilities. The job is not done until all children count just the same in the education system.” Elin Martínez
The key findings of the report can be summarised as follows:
The report includes a series of recommendations to National and Provincial Departments, urging the South African government to:
Read the full report on inclusive education in South Africa HERE.
On August 19, 2015, the Department of Basic Education issued an official communication, stating that Human Rights Watch failed to include in their final report some governmental submissions which supposedly address many of the concerns raised in their report. However, Human Rights Watch maintains that they repeatedly asked the government to clarify data and policies, and to participate in meetings with the researchers (a timeframe of these invitations is published here), without obtaining any official response.
A second report released by Human Rights Watch on September 1, 2015, focuses on the educational inclusion of children with disabilities in Russia. The 45-page report authored by Andrea Mazzarino, “Left Out? Obstacles to Education for People with Disabilities in Russia”, clearly found that:
If you are a child living with a disability in Russia, there is a significant chance that you will not receive a quality education or even any education at all. Many of those who do receive an education are segregated from other children at special schools for children with disabilities, often far away from their families and communities. Others are isolated in their homes with visits from teachers only a few times a week. The tens of thousands of children with disabilities living in state orphanages face particularly severe obstacles to obtaining any formal education.
If you are a child living with a disability in Russia, there is a significant chance that you will not receive a quality education or even any education at all.
In theory, Russian families can decide to educate their children with disabilities within mainstream schools, special schools, or at home, through distance learning programs or visits from teachers. In practice, however, most of those pupils with disabilities who actually get an education attend special schools, as most mainstream schools do not offer reasonable accommodations or deny admission on the basis of disability. Additionally, a large number of children with disabilities – tens of thousands – currently live in closed state orphanages in Russia.
A large number of children with disabilities – tens of thousands – currently live in closed state orphanages in Russia.
As Human Rights Watch reports:
Most of these children receive little or no education due to the lack of pedagogical staff among caretakers, the children’s general isolation from their surrounding communities, as well as medical diagnoses in the past of certain children as “uneducable.”
Obtaining access to higher education is another challenge faced by students with disabilities, due to physical and communication barriers in Russia’s universities and professional institutes.
As Human Rights Watch reports, in recent times the government has taken a number of relevant measures to promote inclusive education in Russia, such as the federal “Accessible Environment” programme, and has started to implement new standards for primary education for children with disabilities, ensuring an individual educational program to each student with disabilities. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch says, the government should amplify its efforts to ensure protection of the right of children and adults with disabilities to inclusive education, in accordance with Russia’s commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The report includes a number of recommendations to the Russian Government, in particular the Ministry of Education and Science:
Guarantee access to education for all children with disabilities, including children with intellectual disabilities and children living in state institutions, on an equal basis with others, in line with the CRPD.
Ensure that programs to develop inclusive education achieve maximum inclusion in mainstream schools and avoid exclusion, including the segregation of children with disabilities in separate classrooms.
Enforce children’s right to a quality education and inclusion in the community, as guaranteed in the CRPD, including by working with municipal authorities and other authorities to ensure that children are not restricted to distance learning or home study due to obstacles in their apartment buildings or other housing (such as a lack of elevators or ramps), a lack of transportation to and from local schools, or other barriers. These obstacles should not be used as justification to determine that it is impossible for a child to study in a mainstream school.
Support the development of a culture of inclusive education in schools. Specifically, conduct classes on disability awareness and hold activities for children with and without disabilities together, with the aim of developing respect for people with disabilities.
Continue to develop clear standards specifying curricular and other types of reasonable accommodations to make inclusive education accessible to children and adults with disabilities, including persons with developmental or psychosocial disabilities, at all levels of the education system.
Ensure an adequate number of teachers and other professionals, including special educational assistants for teachers, to provide comprehensive support of students with disabilities. Ensure that core teacher training for all current and student teachers includes inclusive education and practical skills including on the use of appropriate communication, educational techniques and materials. Provide continuous trainings, support, and mentoring of teachers and assistants, including through resource centers and professional exchanges.
Ensure adequate budget allocations and funding for all educational institutions to guarantee inclusive education.
Continue and expand initiatives to educate children with disabilities and parents about children’s right to education, including to inclusive education.
Develop Universal Design for accessible environments in mainstream schools for children with various types of disabilities.
Throughout the process of reforming laws and policies and in the process of monitoring, actively seek and include the input of children and adults with disabilities, including those currently and previously in institutional care, as well as parents of children with disabilities, DPOs, experts and NGOs working in the field of children’s rights and disability rights.
Read the full report on inclusive education in Russia HERE.
[Head Photo © 2010 Alexander Natruskin/ REUTERS]
Andrea Pregel is an inclusion professional with experience in disability, development, education, gender and health across Europe and Asia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Social Research from the University of Turin (Italy), and an Erasmus Mundus MA/Mgr in Special and Inclusive Education from the University of Roehampton in London (UK), the University of Oslo (Norway) and Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic). He is Co-founder and President of the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI), and works as Programme Advisor for Social Inclusion and Disability at Sightsavers International.