Equal education opportunities for children with disabilities

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1152/Kate Holt
Six-year-old Nemanja Brkic (left) and a classmate hold up drawings in their nursery school in Novi Sad, capital of Vojvodina Province. Nemanja was born with hearing problems. His nursery school is one of the first to accept disabled children as part of a new law integrating disabled children into regular schools. Nemanja is the only child in his class with special needs, and, with therapy, he is able to keep up with his classmates.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 21 September 2011 – Over 1.5 million children in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) live with disabilities. Commonly locked up in segregated institutions or hidden away in their homes, children with disabilities are one of the most marginalised groups of our society. They are often denied their basic right to quality education and lack opportunities to interact with their peers and participate actively in the society.

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To promote inclusive education for children with disabilities, 20 representatives from the CEE/CIS countries as well as relevant stakeholders are gathering in Moscow on 27-29 September for the first-ever regional conference of this dimension.

In the lead up to the Moscow conference, UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke talked to Ms Elina Lehtomaki, Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and a pioneer in the field of inclusive education.

Equal rights to education for children with disabilities

Throughout the world children who have disabilities or experience difficulties in learning have traditionally been marginalized within or excluded from schools.

“We do assume that education is for all but it’s an assumption”, said Ms Lehtomaki. “Even in countries where we have got high enrolment rates of children going to school, we still find that children with disabilities are not even counted for. Children may stay at school or they may go to segregated education settings where they are out of the general education system.”

For Ms Lehtomaki, the education of children with disabilities is particularly important because of its potential to build children’s capacities and reduce social stigma. “Social stigma is one of the key issues preventing parents from taking children to school, especially the schools where other children go”, she said.

Working toward the same goal

The Moscow conference on inclusive education for children with disabilities in CEE/CIS will focus on three main objectives: highlighting the global movement toward inclusive education and exploring the region’s fit within the global trend; sharing best practices implemented so far in the region; enhancing collaboration among all stakeholders.

Commenting on the outcomes of the conference, Ms Lehtomaki said: “We need all efforts and we need everybody in this process, everybody to work towards the same goal”.

To learn more about Inclusive Education Conference, please visit:
The Conference on inclusive education for children with disabilities in CEECIS

Related link:

Governments urged to build on innovations, speed up inclusive education reforms for children with disabilities

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