Education is central to individual evolution and must be a right for all. It provides each person with the possibility to fully participate in society, to access the labour market and to develop one’s potential.
The European Disability Forum works to make sure that the European Union and its Member States support and invest in quality inclusive education and that freedom of choice becomes a reality for all persons with disabilities in Europe. We advocate on behalf of learners of all ages and at all levels of education.
Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms the right to education as a fundamental one. Despite the limited competences of the European Union in this field, the European Disability Forum believes that the right to inclusive education should be considered and protected by the EU, as being part of its fundamental values and principles and a universal human right.
The rate of early school leavers is higher for pupils with disabilities due to barriers (architectural, legal, attitudinal) that hamper access to education especially for learners in need of high-level support. The most recently available EU-level data shows that 20.3% of persons with disabilities were early school leavers compared to 10.8% percent of persons without disabilities. Furthermore, only 30.9% of learners with disabilities went on to tertiary education.
Levels of inclusivity in education
- Exclusion: occurs when students are directly or indirectly prevented from or denied access to education in any form.
- Segregation: occurs when the education of learners with disabilities is provided in separate environments, typically catered to one specific or to various types of disability, in isolation from learners without disabilities.
- Integration: is the process of placing persons with disabilities in existing mainstream educational institutions with the understanding that they can adjust to the standardised requirements of such institution.
- Inclusion: Inclusion involves a process of systemic reform embodying changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and strategies in education to overcome barriers with a vision serving to provide all learners of the relevant age range with an equitable and participatory learning experience and the environment that best corresponds to their requirements and preferences.
General tendencies in Europe
The level of inclusivity in mainstream education varies between EU Member States. You can see how different European countries compare to each other in this report on Inclusive Education and COVID-19 by former EDF trainee Eleni Drakopoulou.
- Furthermore, each country identifies pupils with disabilities and with disabilities and special education needs differently. This variation can make it difficult to easily compare data. Nevertheless, some general tendencies in Europe can be observed:
- There is an issue in all countries regarding learners with disabilities that officially are enrolled at schools but who never attend the classes.
- Several countries present a clear increase in rates of pupils with an official diagnosis of special education needs.
- All countries present a slight decrease in the proportion of learners with disabilities being educated in segregated educational environments (special classes and schools).
When it comes to education, EDF campaigns for:
- The right to quality inclusive education in mainstream settings, in line with the CRPD and its General Comment No. 4;
- Persons with disabilities’ right to benefit on equal basis with others from EU exchange schemes and opportunities to study and learn abroad;
- The right to learn throughout life;
- The investment of EU funds in accessible learning environments and lifelong learning for persons with disabilities;
- The accessibility of digital education through ensuring accessible educational content and accessible Information and Communication Technologies;
- Accessible school and university curricula (i.e. exams, etc.).