The European Union must lead the way for more inclusive education systems for learners with intellectual disabilities
On 8th June the IE+ policy debate brought together EU policy makers, representatives of persons with disabilities, their families and support service providers in the field of education to discuss how the EU can promote the realisation of inclusive education for learners with disabilities. The debate highlighted that by working together with stakeholders, EU initiatives such as the European Disability Strategy, Child Guarantee and European Education Area have the potential to be effective tools in the promotion of more inclusive education systems across Europe.
Despite the benefits of inclusive education systems, thousands of children with disabilities are currently unable to enjoy a high-quality education alongside their peers across Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic has acutely underlined that although all EU Member States have committed to the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), the various education systems are still far from being inclusive.
With this in mind, on 8th June the ‘Promoting positive attitudes and evidence-based policy for inclusive education’ project (IE+) policy debate brought together EU policy makers, representatives of persons with disabilities, their families and support service providers in the field of education to address the role of the EU in achieving truly inclusive education systems.
Overcoming negative attitudes towards inclusive education was identified as key barrierto the full participation of all students in mainstream schools. These attitudes not only lead to the continuation of segregated education but can also prevent stakeholders from working together to better support learners with intellectual disabilities. The focus on inclusive education being a key component of a high-quality education in the EU’s proposed European Education Area is an important step in showing stakeholders that inclusive education is the way forward. This action must also be joined by the appropriate allocation of resources, to help schools, families and the wider community overcome their uncertainties in regard to inclusion and ensure that they are well supported as they implement the changes needed to realise inclusive schools.
Speaking at the debate, MEP Stelios Kympouropoulosfurther highlighted the need for greater allocation of resources into enabling all learners to receive an education in mainstream schools. In particular, it is vital that the infrastructure, as well as the learning resources of schools, are fully accessible to all. While digitalisation and technology can facilite the creation of more accessible learning environments and support innovation in the sector, such innovations should also be joined by investment into teacher training to equip teachers with the skills they need to include all learners in their classrooms. As the EU moves into its next budgetary period, funding programmes including Erasmus+, ESF+ and InvestEU must address the investment into inclusive education as a priority.
In the move towards creating more inclusive education systems, ensuring that children have access to the support they need was identified as a crucial factor. This support should not only be provided in the school environment, but also to families. Irene Bertana, Policy Officer at COFACE Families Europe, stressed the importance of viewing education as a family project within a community setting, adding that there is a need for education systems and services to be more responsive to the individual needs of families and learners. The EU’s upcoming Child Guarantee aims to ensure children from disadvantaged groups, including children with disabilities, have access to the service they need. As the Child Guarantee is developed over the next year, the European Commission must remain in dialogue with civil society, including representatives of children with disabilities, their families and support service providers to ensure that the initiative enables all partners to work together to provide high quality person centred, services in the community.
The need for a holistic, human rights based long term strategy to support Member States achieve inclusive education was reiterated by speakers throughout the debate. The new European Disability Strategy, which is due to be adopted in 2021 can lead the way in doing. The Open Method of Coordination, to facilitate the exchange of policies and practices among countries and stakeholders in regard to inclusive education should also be promoted by the EU, to ensure the successful implementation of these strategies at a Member State level.
The results of this debate will be used to further shape the IE+ project’s Policy Recommendations for all stakeholders. To keep up to date with the latest news of the project, visit the project webpage here. To watch the policy debate in full, click here.