Final report of the Special Rapporteur of the
Final report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social Development on monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
A. Human rights and disability
The fact that persons with disabilities live a more or less segregated life depends to a major extent on the shortcomings of social systems. One of the most important of these is the educational system. There is a close relationship between the level of education and integration into society. Education lightens the burden of various forms of social disadvantage and opens the door to better living conditions. Education of persons with disabilities is consequently one of the most essential target areas of the Standard Rules.
To understand the contents of the Rule on education it is necessary to consider it in the context of three other important documents that preceded the Standard Rules and one document that followed their adoption. These other documents are the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1982), the World Declaration on Education for All (1990) and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (1994).
The Salamanca Statement, the most recent of those documents, builds upon and develops further the ideas formulated in rule 6 and makes them more precise. It is a powerful instrument proclaiming inclusive education as the leading principle in special needs education. It states that those with special educational needs must have access to regular schools that should accommodate them within a child-centred pedagogy capable of meeting these needs. Inclusive education is regarded as the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes and is believed to provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost effectiveness of the entire educational system.
Many countries are now taking steps to implement the guidelines in the Standard Rules. One major problem is the maintenance of a segregated system of education - one "regular" educational system for the non-disabled and one separate system of special education for persons with disabilities.
Since 1980, UNESCO has collected global information on practice in the field of special education. In 1993-1994 the latest UNESCO review was presented, entitled "Review of the Present Situation of Special Education", which covers issues on policies, legislation, administration, organization, teacher training, financing and provisions for special needs education. The material is very useful in measuring the implementation of rule 6 on education in the Standard Rules. In monitoring rule 6 the Special Rapporteur has studied the findings of the review. He has also had access to a previous UNESCO review on special education legislation (1991). In the following paragraphs, he has selected some results and observations based on those two reviews, which are important for understanding the situation in the field of education.
The 1993-1994 review is based on information collected through a questionnaire that was sent to 90 Governments. Sixty-three Governments responded. (In the case of Australia and Canada, two separate replies were received, which explains the total of 65 replies).
The right to education is denied millions of children with special educational needs, who either receive inadequate and inappropriate public education or are excluded from the public school systems. Although many developing countries have recognized the right to education, it has in many cases not been applied to persons with special educational needs.
Sixty-five countries provided information on legislation. Forty-four countries reported that general legislation applied to the children with special educational needs. Thirty-four countries reported that children with severe disabilities were excluded from education. In 18 of the 34 countries reporting exclusion, those children were excluded by law from the public educational system. In 16 countries the exclusion was the result of other, non-legal factors. The most common reason given for excluding some children from the public education system was the severity of the disability, lack of facilities and trained staff, long distances to schools and the fact that regular schools do not accept pupils with special educational needs. Ten countries reported that no legislation on special education exists.
One question in the UNESCO questionnaire tried to ascertain what formal rights parents have in assessment procedures and decision-making with respect to placement of children with special educational needs. In 22 of the 53 countries providing information, the parents' role is fully recognized in decision-making concerning placement. In seven countries parents only have the right to appeal decisions concerning their child's placement. In 24 countries, however, parents' involvement in decision-making and their right to choose placement in special education is severely limited.
From the information presented in the 1993-1994 review, it may be tentatively concluded that schooling for the children with special educational needs is still predominantly provided in a segregated educational system and that the rates of attendance in schools of persons with special educational needs is very low in numerous countries. It was found, for instance, that in 33 of the 48 countries providing information, fewer than one per cent of pupils are enrolled in special educational programmes. Thus, in most countries integration represents an aspiration for the future. The UNESCO review indicates, when compared to a review concerning the period 1986-1987, that some progress towards the goal of integration into regular education has been achieved.
In 1991 UNESCO requested Governments to report on the position of their law concerning special education. The request for information for that study was sent to 70 countries, of which 52 responded.
The aim was to identify the type of existing special education legislation and what it covers. A few important findings from that study are as follows:
(a) In sixteen out of fifty-two countries providing information, special education is financed totally by the State and/or local authorities;
(b) Only in ten of fifty-two countries are disabled children in regular schools expected to follow the regular school curriculum, using the learning methods suitable for their individual needs;
(c) In the majority of countries, the Ministry of Education is responsible for the organization of special education services.
In an increasing number of countries, the Ministry of Education is responsible for the organization of special education, while the responsibility for the implementation and evaluation of such education is borne by federal States or local authorities. In some countries the responsibility for organization is shared among several Ministries. In one country there is a division of responsibility between the Ministry of Education, for children with moderate disabilities, and the Ministry of Welfare, for those with severe disabilities.