When Mia Farah went to school in Lebanon with her two brothers, she was supposed to learn Arabic and French and then English.
“But the Arabic teacher kicked me out of the classroom because I have intellectual disability. So I studied French and English only,” said Mia.
Mia was one of the participants at a day-long discussion in Geneva organised by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to examine the right to education and how inclusive education can be made a reality on the ground.
“The right to education is one of our most fundamental human rights,” said Committee member Theresia Degener. “There is no one in this world who cannot benefit from education.”
However, for Persons with disabilities, getting access to quality education is not easy.
“There are many countries in which children with disabilities do not go into the so-called mainstream school, they are segregated, isolated,” said Committee member Stig Langvad. Such segregation can seriously affect a person’s opportunities in life. “You will not have qualifications that are recognised and comparable to mainstream education and then the employer will always think that you are probably not as clever as the rest,” he said.
Maryanne Diamond, from International Disability Alliance, stressed that inclusive education is not just about a school having disabled and non-disabled pupils.
“Many governments talk about inclusive education and education for persons with disabilities but as we’ve heard…it is often about putting someone in a classroom and not necessarily providing the accommodations, accessibility to give them quality education,” she said.
Richard Rieser, who runs an organisation called World of Inclusion and is himself a teacher, outlined some key steps.
“Governments need to ensure that teachers have mandatory training on including children with disabilities,” he said. Inclusion specialists should go into schools to support pupils and teachers, rather than “pulling the kids out of school to go to where the specialists are”. Technology, including websites, mobile phones and apps, is also important for ensuring people can access the resources they need, he added.
The Committee will use the information gathered during the day’s discussions to draw up authoritative guidance, known as a General Comment, on how States should interpret the right to inclusive education as set out in Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“Millions of children like me want and should have the opportunity to go to an inclusive school and study and play alongside all other children. In that way, we will not only learn better but also make our society more inclusive,” Rabjyot Singh Kohli, 17, from New Delhi, India, told the audience.
22 April 2015