Equal and Inclusive Education for Children

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It is estimated that there are 500-650 million persons with disabilities in the world, approximately 10 % of the world population, 150 million of whom are children. More than 80 % live in developing countries with little or no access to services. The majority of children with disabilities, in developing countries remain out of school and are completely illiterate. [1] This is the information provided by UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which provides us with an idea of how big is the issue concerning right to education of the children with disabilities. Even though majority of the states have ratified various international human rights instruments, many of them fail to ensure to fulfill all the obligations prescribed under international human rights law instruments. I will address following problem on example of Georgia. Are disabled children's education rights protected in equal way as of children without disabilities in Georgia? What are the main problems of implementing human rights instruments' provisions and what has to be done in order to give children with disabilities equal chance to enjoy their educational rights? And is inclusive education solution to the problem?

Right to education has been enshrined in several human rights instruments such as: The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art.26); The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Art.13); Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 28); Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Art.24) etc. All the above mentioned instruments underline the principle of non-discrimination and equality in the right of education. Hence, children with disabilities are entitled to the same educational rights as others.

When addressing this issue I will mainly discuss right to education of the children with disabilities under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as it is the major human rights instrument concerning children's rights in general. Article 28 of Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that states parties recognize the right of a child to education on the basis of equal opportunity, making primary education compulsory and available free to all [2] . The following article underlines that everyone has equal opportunity to receive various levels of education, but first and foremost importance of compulsory primary education and its availability for free of charge. Article 29 of CRC states the aims of education, such as "development of child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential […]" Article 2 of CRC is relating to equality and non-discrimination principle including ensuring and respecting rights of disabled children without any discrimination on the grounds of disability. Among the above mentioned provisions, article mainly with regard to the rights of disabled children is Article 23 of CRC, which again highlights that state parties have to ensure disabled child's effective access to education (Art.23(3)).

In 2006 The Committee on the Rights of the Child has adopted its General Comment No 9 on the subject of the rights of children with disabilities, addressing some core matters concerning rights of disabled children, core obligations of state parties, general measures of implementation of the Convention etc. In the following comment Committee among other issues underlines the significance of rights of education of children with disabilities. Committee addresses the importance of inclusive education. Inclusive education should be the goal of educating children with disabilities. 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. [3] The same principle of inclusive education is also provided in the Implementation Handbook of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prepared by UNICEF. According to the Handbook "the education of disabled children should be provided "in a manner conductive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration (Article 23(3)) which means that disabled children should, wherever possible, be educated in mainstream schools alongside with children without disabilities." [4] 

Even though principle of inclusive education is seen by UN human rights bodies as a solution for improving enjoyment of right to education of disabled children, some look on this aspect from more deep perspective. For example Marcia H. Rioux and Paola C. Pinto in their recent article address this issue, according to them: "Even when, in more recent decades, inclusion has become the mantra of education systems worldwide, the discrepancy between normative frameworks and the resources available on the ground to realize the right to education for all has often created new forms of marginalization and exclusion along ability lines. Indeed, getting children with disabilities in schools is not enough. If inclusion simply changes the location of the schooling of the child but the negative stereotyping persists, then the expectations for that child's learning will continue to be less than for other students. It makes a charade of inclusion. Being 'in' a classroom, but not an integrated and equal participant in the very fabric of learning contradicts the purpose of schooling. This is what is sometimes characterized as soft inclusion - inclusion that addresses place but not the substance of learning." [5] These authors emphasize, that "A rights approach to education, by contrast, highlights the need for a holistic perspective, requiring a framework that takes into consideration not just the right of access to education throughout all stages of childhood and beyond, but also the right of quality education and the right to respect in the learning environment." [6] 

The equality, non-discrimination and integration of disabled children in the mainstream education, are the priority issues on human rights agenda in Georgia.

Since ratification of Convention on the Rights of the Child on June 2 of 1994, Georgia has submitted three reports to the Committee. These reports give clear idea about the problems in the process of implementing equality and non-discrimination principles in regards of education of disabled children. The reporting procedure shows what the gaps of implementing CRC on national level are.

The second periodic state party report provides with more or less detailed information concerning right to education of disabled children. According to information provided by the Ministry of Education of Georgia, there are 20 special residential schools for mentally and physically disabled children under its jurisdiction. There are two homes for disabled children under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Welfare, housing a total of 157 children. The Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Welfare has also prepared a programme for the countrywide reform of the system of institutionalizing disabled children. The Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Welfare points out that, not with standing certain improvements in recent years in the budget funding of institutional establishments, this programme is still underfunded. It is unable to provide full funding for rehabilitation work, particularly that of a social nature, which in turn seriously hampers the task of integrating disabled children into society. The programme aims to ensure a substantial improvement in the opportunities available to children in this category for psychological, educational and social rehabilitation. [7] In response to this report, Committee published its Concluding Observation in 2003, providing some recommendations in regards of right to education of children with disabilities. More precisely, The Committee is concerned that the right to non-discrimination is not yet fully reflected in the State party's legislation, policies and programmes at the national and local levels. [8] The Committee remains concerned that children with disabilities remain outside mainstream education and are marginalized in society. [9] The Committee recommends the state party to take the necessary measures to integrate children with disabilities in the mainstream education system and society. [10] 

The latest report submitted to the Committee by Georgia was in 2007. State party provides with following information, that The NGO "Children of Georgia" in collaboration with UNICEF undertook an assessment of disabled institutionalized children and their capacity for reintegration, and of disabled children living with their families. New methods for assessing disabled children were developed and adapted to the Georgian context. Based on this assessment, a strategy for reintegration and inclusive education will be developed. [11] According to the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, a national policy concerning the disabled children is reflected in the decision of the Parliament of Georgia of 13 February 2004 regarding the main directions of the social policy aimed at protecting the rights of disabled children, above mentioned document includes priority issues such as: a) harmonization of the Georgian legislation with the norms and standards provided for by international conventions; b) inclusive and integrated education. [12] According to the Ministry of Education and Science, until recently, there were few alternatives to institutional care or education in special schools for children with disabilities in Georgia. However, the situation has changed with the enactment of a new Law on general education, which stipulates in paragraph 4 of its article 31 that "general educational institutions are authorized to create conditions for inclusive education". This provision has created an unprecedented opportunity for Georgia to reduce the need for institutionalization that often was the only option for children with disabilities. [13] Based on this legislation, pilot projects on inclusive education have been launched in 10 Tbilisi schools with the view to involving children with special needs in the teaching process. Monitoring of these projects has shown that due to inclusive education socially isolated, alienated and disabled children are becoming more integrated into society. [14] Considering third periodic report of the state of Georgia, the Committee adopted its Concluding Observation in 2008. The Committee is still concerned that, despite the Constitutional and other guarantees, the principle of non-discrimination is not fully respected in practice with certain groups of children, including children with disabilities. [15] The Committee recommends that the State party increase its efforts to monitor and ensure implementation of existing laws guaranteeing the principle of non-discrimination and full compliance with article 2 of the Convention. [16] The Committee recommends state party among other issues to consider: a) ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol; c) pursue efforts to ensure that children with disabilities may exercise their right to education to the maximum extent possible. [17] 

As we see from the example of Georgia, Georgia still faces many problems in regards to fulfillment of its core obligations on the subject of the right to education of disabled children. I agree with the idea that, "It continues to be a slow process for the recognition of the right to education for children with disabilities to become accepted and implemented. There is an urgent need to monitor the systemic conditions that have led to the discrepancy between policy and practice, between theory and implementation. There is a further need to disaggregate data in order to make visible the discrimination and exclusion of many children with disabilities, to develop new policies that target people with disabilities and to measure the progress towards universal education". [18] Georgia still has to take more steps such as: adopt and enforce national legislation in regards of disabled people; ratify and implement the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities; raise funds on education of disabled children; have more cooperation with international human rights organizations; make schools accessible for children with disabilities, promote public awareness that disabled children are part of the society, train school staff and teachers, etc. Georgia has simply to respect, protect and fulfill right to education of children with disabilities. Solving all of these issues is not a myth, but reality, negative aspect is, unfortunately it takes long time.

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