Richard Rieser speaking at UNICEF/ IDA side meeting on Inclusive Education at Social Forum in Geneva on 5th October 2016.

October 10, 2016 by Richard Rieser

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“ I’m very pleased this General Comment No 4 has been published because when we were negotiating the Convention there were three major votes on Article 24 and there were many attempts to subvert it and I notice that those attempts still came in the General Comment, but the CRPD committee won out and it stuck to human rights principles, so that they are to be applauded. Now our job is to implement it, but the Comment will help us in the implementation.

From my experience as a disabled person and a teacher I could tell my life story but three little glimpses will suffice. When I was five I was not allowed to go to the ordinary school. I was a fire risk. I had polio when I was a kid. I could climb trees and ride a bike, but I wasn’t allowed in school. I had to be sent somewhere separate. When I wanted to go to secondary school there was a lift, but I wasn’t allowed to use the lift only the teachers used the lift. There was no accommodation there. This is before we had any legislation. When I became a teacher myself I had to go through a demeaning medical to see whether I was fit to teach. I asked the doctor what’s the strength and shape of my legs have to do with teaching. He couldn’t comment but that law is still in place in England. There is discrimination to disabled people who want to teach all around the world.

To me the barriers are the key thing and the barriers should be addressed in advance, it should be anticipating adjustment duty and is an anticipatory duty all schools all colleges all education establishments need to be thinking about this before a student with disabilities arrives. Not after.

It is something that should be built into the practice, design, and organization of all education. Of course that isn’t happening and governments hide behind the fears of parents about inclusion. Quite often I see this happening with opposition to inclusion by creating fear amongst parents. This is one the major things that is used by governments to actually stop inclusion moving forward and those who get paid a lot in Europe- those who head up special schools get paid more than other teachers. They don’t want to lose that position they create fears amongst parents. There is very little good practice of inclusion ever shown to parents, before they make the choice.

I prefer to point to the Government in Britain a few years ago. We made reasonable adjustments films in 40 schools for them, which was sent to every school in the country. It was clear that all schools could make reasonable accommodations, most were not bothering, 20 percent were doing well, 20 percent did not bother at all even though it was already the law. Having laws is not enough. You have to create a culture of change and that’s why we built an Alliance of parents, teachers, disabled people, young people, young disabled people and other professionals- teachers, education psychologists to fight for inclusion. That is a model that needs to be used in every country to bring together all those forces who want to fight for inclusion. To actually force governments to change, because they’re not going to change, there are too many vested interests wanting to keep things as they are.


One of the biggest places of vested interests are the universities, which are full of people who have learned to do special education. When we drafted the Convention we didn’t mention special education needs. You can look at the General Comment and there’s no mention of special education need. But in the Country Reports that come to the CRPD Committee over and over and over again governments say the special education people are meeting the needs of children with disabilities. Special education does not understand inclusion and promotes integration or segregation.. We have to understand the paradigm shift is away from the medical model to human rights model and that means in education moving away from exclusion, segregation, integration to inclusion.

Just placing children in a mainstream school some will survive as our colleague from Africa said, but many will have not survived through the process she went through. It isn’t good enough to just leave children to survive. We have to address the barriers, we have to get much better at sharing how we address those barriers around the world. The last thing I wanted to say is about some work I’ve done for Unicef on teachers around the world in preparing them for children with disabilities .

I find that the goals that we put forward on the sustainable development goals don’t address teachers sufficiently. You can’t have inclusion without teachers and if you don’t address teachers and their training and have mandatory training for teachers we will still be here in 30 years’ time talking about inclusion.

Education International which represents 40 million teachers is supporting inclusion, many local branches don’t because they feel under pressure, but it’s about advocacy. In my own union the National Union of Teachers in England it took me eight years to win a position of inclusion and in the next 16 years since then it’s come under attack, practically at every Conference, but we still maintain that position as the largest teaching union in Europe. So it can be done, but you have to have advocates to fight for it.

Teachers need training, all teachers need training in understanding inclusion in the widest aspects of it, but they also need a twin track approach. They must have training on the reasonable accommodations and support that people with different impairments need. This is not for specialist. This should be for every teacher. Then we also need local resource centres in every district throughout the world which will provide the extra specialists support and technology for inclusion.

People have talked about technology and say well we don’t need technology, the technology we’ve got is very important. 80 percent of people in Africa now access a mobile phone. Through a mobile phone we can actually access materials for the whole curriculum and that’s particularly important to deaf people and blind people. So we can actually get this across. These don’t need to be run where there’s electricity. They can be charged up at a central place.

When I was going around the school in South Africa saw a boy sitting in front of a class and the class was about large numbers, how many, what was the size of number to get to the sun, the moon and so on. The class had to work out was it larger or smaller. I saw this boy sitting out. I asked the teacher why have you not included him. Well he has cerebral palsy was the reply. This was a school where Norway had spent three years supporting the development of inclusion. That lasted only when they were doing it. We have to build resilience so it lasts after interventions, all you have to do is draw a grid squares on paper, he can point at it smaller larger so on. He could join in as well whether he can write or not, It’s the concept in his brain that needs to be developed. This lack of being able to look out of the box is what we have to develop in all teacher. They have to become creative not part of a machine that is linked unfortunately, and this is the bigger threat to inclusive education, around the world to big business moving into education and judging education by results on a normative basis.

In the PISA tests which are being used increasingly which in which school students are compared. But PISA leaves out four percent of children. Those who are disabled so we’re not comparing like with like. So I will leave it there. There’s much more I could say. Thank you “.

Answer to questions
“There are a lot of questions there. There were a whole lot around special segregated education. I think we need to remember where it came from, it came from Europe and North America. The idea that particularly children with learning difficulties had to be kept separate from the rest of the population in institutions because they would reduce the gene pool and lead to weakening of the gene pool and this was a eugenics measure. Eugenics held sway in all of the main universities right up until the 1960s. And it was only in the 50’s that it began to shift with some forward work from psychologists showing that actually everybody could learn.

Until that time people still held the view across the world that there was a fixed level of intelligence and you couldn’t change it. So that was a real mistake and it led to us inheriting a whole lot of institutions and universities departments that teach special Ed. There’s no justification for that. You need to approach each university as an advocate, saying we want a course of inclusive education for our teachers particularly in eastern Europe and Russia. They have a further refinement Defectology, which came from a Stalinist view of education where they had to actually force children to meet the barriers in the environment and deal with the barriers themselves, rather than removing the barriers, it is a ridiculous idea and it has to be challenged wherever it takes place.

We can show where there are special schools and mainstream schools together with equal samples of children, in every case the disabled children do better in the mainstream schools than they do in the special schools. In addition to this where there are residential special schools there are major issues of child protection and abuse, and there are hundreds and hundreds of cases around the world of children being abused because of the power relationship of adults to children. So it’s not a good idea for parents to think this is a good place to send their children. We have to argue with parents to say no this is not the right place and maybe mainstream isn’t right but we have to work together to make them the right place.

We have to fight together do that, now the one thing about young children is they will take their lead from adults. If they’re clear about bullying and where it comes from the strange ideas, as I just mentioned in the past, they will say this isn’t fair and be the ones to challenge the bullying and name calling. These techniques can be used anywhere around the world so the proof the pudding is that you can actually do.

The last thing I wanted to mention was the role of government. I was recently in Kenya. We were working with South Sudan developing their plans for education for all. We convinced the Ministry of Education that there should be no more special schools. After the war there should be resource bases. It was a hard battle because the people in the Ministry had all been educated in Special Ed in Kenya. The people we were taken to visit were in establishments that had thespecial ed approach. This was despite Kenya signing and ratifying the convention in 2008. The education professionals said that doesn’t mean anything we’re still doing special Ed. There were 20,000 kids in special schools in Kenya, 85,000 with identified impairments in mainstream schools. Yet if you were a teacher in special schools you were entitled after three years to 1 years paid secondment. Teachers in mainstream had to pay out of their own holiday time for training. This is what happens when vested interests take control you have to blow vested interests out of the water to make inclusion happen”.

Supplementary answer on dual system for deaf people.
“I understand what Terry was saying, but is it not true that the World Federation of the Deaf have supported the General Comment and inclusion? This does argue for sign language education. It doesn’t make a brief for separate deaf schools, it doesn’t argue for that and I think that should have been sorted out inside the World Federation of the Deaf before this document was drawn. Because I know there are different views, but the world view is reflected in this document.

To answer two of your points, I can take you to schools in England like Lister Secondary where there are teachers of the deaf, deaf teachers teaching sign language in a mainstream school, but what is important is ‘that the child is not on their own’. That there are four deaf children in each class and that they are part of the class and that they’re taught bilingually and that has shown to be as effective in many ways as the old deaf schools.

Putting a child on their own, who is a sign language user, is not acceptable, that is not inclusion, it is integration, and we need to be very clear about that, and we need to argue for mobilization of sign language interpreters, deaf people teacher sign in the mainstream schools, but we have to have a constant number of deaf children for it to work. I would argue and we really can’t go to the whole world, where there are many, many more deaf children than in Europe and say you need separate schools. It is not possible to do that and we will be in 50 years’ time still talking about this. We have to create sign language in all of our schools”

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