Inclusive Education is not a Mission-Impossible

Bratislava, Budapest, 22 March 2018: The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, was the main guest at a roundtable organised by the Office of the Slovak Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities, the Office of the Commissioner for People with Disabilities, the European Roma Rights Centre, Validity, and the Forum for Human Rights. The event was also attended by the incoming Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. The focus of the roundtable was to agree on firm commitments towards inclusive education for all children in Slovakia.

Mr. Muižnieks and Ms. Mijatović were concluding a week-long visit to Slovakia, where they were monitoring progress on ending segregated educational mechanisms of Romani children and children with disabilities. Thursday’s (15.03.2018) meeting brought together representatives of state authorities (including the Slovak Commissioner for People with Disabilities, representatives of the Ministry of Education, Public Defender of Rights and Ombudsperson for Children), civil society, school teachers, persons with disabilities and individuals from Romani communities to agree on measurable steps towards ending discrimination.

“We stand before the challenge of inclusive education. This challenge exists throughout Europe and it is important that we cope with it. It would not be only for the benefit of the children concerned, notwithstanding whether they are Roma children, disabled children or migrant children. It will be for the benefit of our entire society and all children. If we had inclusive education, it would be beneficial for the entire society, this is particularly true in Slovakia,” said Commissioner Muižnieks, adding:” Education shapes our identity. It defines our professional changes. The segregation of certain groups in education is a serious violation of human rights.”

All participants agreed that inclusive education is the desired tool to tackle discrimination in education and to secure equal access of all children to quality education without prejudice to their abilities, health or ethnicity. Education of pupils with special educational needs should be focused on their needs so that they can be educated together in mainstream schools, ensuring the provision of individualized support and personal assistants for to those students who need it. The participants also highlighted the need for adoption and implementation of laws and policies based on evidence (including collection of data in accordance with the law) to enable measuring their effectiveness. Throughout the reform process, the involvement of the concerned communities is of crucial importance.

Slovakia is bound by the EU law and numerous international human rights instruments supporting equal access and quality education for all children, including the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC), the UN Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD. In spite of that, it has so far failed to comply with those obligations and has been the subject of infringement proceedings by the European Commission since April 2015 for breaching the prohibition of discrimination in education set out in the EU Race Equality Directive. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also expressed concerns about the “persistence of a segregated education system” for children with disabilities and Roma children, calling on the government to introduce an enforceable right to inclusive education and adopt a legally-binding plan for the transition from segregated schools to inclusive schools.

This press release is also available in Slovak.