Salamanca 6 years on
UNESCO's involvement in the promotion of inclusive education
More than 300 participants representing 92 governments and 25 international organisations met in the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality, in Salamanca, Spain, in 1994, to further the objective of Education for All by considering the fundamental policy shifts required to promote the approach of inclusive education. The Salamanca Statement, adopted at the Conference, urged all governments, among others
Inclusive education - a challenge, a process
Inclusive education has evolved as a movement to challenge exclusionary policies and practices and has gained ground over the past decade. International initiatives from the United Nations, UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and elsewhere jointly add up to a growing consensus that all children have the right to be educated together, regardless of their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, linguistic or other condition, and that inclusion makes good educational and social sense.
A decade of international instruments and documents have promoted the principle of inclusive education - 1989 UN Convention on the Right of the Child, 1990 the World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, and the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, 1993. The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development also emphasized the importance of providing education for persons with disabilities in integrated settings. Today, the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education provides the clearest and most unequivocal call for inclusive education and has reinforced the ideas expressed in the other international instruments.
Inclusion is to be seen as part of the wider struggle to overcome exclusive discourse and practices, and against the ideology that that each individual is completely separate and independent. Inclusion is about the improving of schooling. Rather than being a marginal theme concerned how a relatively small group of pupils might be attached to mainstream schools, it lays the foundations for an approach that could lead to the transformation of the system itself.
A UNESCO survey of 63 countries, carried out in 1995, concerning developments in special needs education revealed that integration is a key policy idea in many of the countries in the sample, although only a small number spelled out their guiding principles explicitly.
Today "special educational needs" is not just referring to physical, sensory or intellectual disability, but to a broad spectrum of educational needs gone unnoticed in regular schools among children. They are often at risk of dropping out because of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, environmental or cultural reasons, or impairments that impede their progress. While significant expansion of primary education is laudable, these children will not survive the system unless the broad continuum of their needs is addressed. These children include those who drop out of schools and /or repeat classes, learners who develop slower than their age-peers, children with disabilities, street and working children, children with HIV/AIDS, juvenile offenders and children of incarcerated parents, and children from disadvantaged homes, refugee populations, ethnic/linguistic minority groups, remote areas, etc.
Thus, attaining the universally accepted goal of Education for All remains one of the most daunting challenges facing the global community today. Reaching the unreached, all those children and youth excluded and/or marginalised, has now been accepted as a priority in virtually all countries. Developing countries, for which this endeavour is especially challenging, are being strongly supported by the international development community in the effort to provide Education for All - the key to sustainable social and economic growth.
Within this paradigm, it is recognized that current Education for All strategies and programmes are largely insufficient or inappropriate with regard to needs of children and youth with special needs. Where programmes targeting various marginalized/excluded groups do exist, they have functioned outside the mainstream - special programmes, specialized institutions, specialist educators. Notwithstanding the best intentions, it is conceded that too often the result has been exclusion: differentiation becoming a form of discrimination, leaving children with special needs outside the mainstream of school life and later, as adults, outside community social and cultural life in general.
UNESCO's involvement and contribution
UNESCO's driving force since Salamanca has been in disseminating the messages which emanated from the World Conference, leading discussions and debates, initiating and supporting innovation and assuming a catalytic role in sharing and disseminating new thinking and new practice with respect to addressing special educational needs within the regular education system.
The main thrust of UNESCO's efforts has focussed on:
1) developing national capacities for policy making and system
management in support of inclusive education, and
2) bringing forward the concerns of people with disabilities, as well as other marginalized groups on the wider educational agenda and on the agendas of international development organizations.
UNESCO's catalytic role in national education policy development has been particularly successful in the following examples:
National capacity building in support of inclusive education is one of the most crucial elements in developing more inclusive education systems, and it is the area where UNESCO has invested considerably and where it made a major impact. Capacity building is implemented mainly through training activities and promoted through networking nationally and internationally. These training activities have been carried out in all world regions, although the priority has been given to Africa. Training is targeted to regular teachers and teacher trainers, but all educational staff, including managers and administrators, as well as decision-makers, are also participating.
As regards UNESCO's involvement in bringing forward the concerns of excluded/marginalised children, a few examples highlight the work carried out:
Challenges and the Way Forward
The major challenges facing the development of more inclusive education systems at all levels are related to the following: