The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in article 24 seeks to combat discrimination of children with disabilities in the field of education by prescribing a model of social inclusion. This paper will critically examine the sociological concept of inclusion, the German experience in implementing article 24 and the limitations of article 24 vis à vis the Right to Education in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Before turning to the situation in Germany it is beneficial to discuss underlying concepts relating to special need education in order to clarify the notion of inclusion. In doing so, contested medical concepts, the perception of education as end rather than means and the voicelessness of the child, all lead to the conclusion that a rights-based approach is advantageous in acquiring social justice. Moreover, looking at the case of Germany and a school system with an exclusion rate of 82% the delay in the public discourse about inclusion is particularly striking. Hence, section 3 will look at empirical data, the UN definition of education and elaborate on the German confusion of inclusion and integration by making reference to domestic law and an exemplary case along with relating the Monitoring Body’s guidelines of availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability to the action plan of North Rhine-Westphalia. Finally, the application of social inclusion maxims to anti-discrimination law demands significant, positive adjustments but is also restricted by its focus on absolute disadvantage. The convention is arguably limited because of its narrow outlook owed to its civil and political nature and inclusive reform might bring broader equality when applied to the a priori Right to Education from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Published in 2015, this document is the second of a series of thematic mappings on the implementation of the right to education, following a first edition on Girls’ and Women’s Right to Education. It presents concrete measures adopted by countries to ensure the full enjoyment of the right to education for persons with disabilities.

The document is based on national reports submitted for the Eighth Consultation on the monitoring of the implementation of the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) and the UNESCO Recommendation against Discrimination in Education (1960).

The first part of the document provides a thematic analysis of measures and promising practices that have been reported on by countries. The second part compiles in factsheets progress and challenges in constitutional and legislative frameworks and measures, for the 48 countries that reported on measures taken, out of the 59 reporting countries.

The document is intended to serve as a practical tool for both advocacy and monitoring. By highlighting concrete measures taken by countries, it also offers a basis for regional and international co-operation and shares promising practices from which other countries can learn.

Key resource

Education is a fundamental human right of every woman, man and child. In states’ efforts to meet their commitments to making the right to education a reality for all, most have made impressive progress in recent decades. With new laws and policies that remove fees in basic education, significant progress has been made in advancing free education. This has led to tens of millions of children enrolling for the first time and the number of out of school children and adolescents falling by almost half since 2000. Important steps have also been taken with regard to gender parity and states have made efforts to raise the quality of education through improved teacher policies and a growing emphasis on learning outcomes. 

Despite these efforts, breaches of the right to education persist worldwide, illustrated perhaps most starkly by the fact that 262 million primary and secondary-aged children and youth are still out of school. Girls, persons with disabilities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds or rural areas, indigenous persons, migrants and national minorities are among those who face the worst discrimination, affecting both their right to go to school and their rights within schools.

To respond to the challenges, the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) with UNESCO have developed this handbook to guide action on ensuring full compliance with the right to education. Its objective is not to present the right to education as an abstract, conceptual, or purely legal concept, but rather to be action-oriented. The handbook will also be an important reference for those working towards the achievement of SDG4, by offering guidance on how to leverage legal commitment to the right to education as a strategic way to achieve this goal.