The role of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Health Organization in promoting inclusive education and assistive technology at the global level
Having set out the relevant provisions of the CRPD and having acknowledged those as representing the global legal standard on inclusive education, this chapter now turns to another sphere of the UN in order to examine the role that selected UN agencies, namely the UNESCO and the WHO, have played in promoting the use of AT in educational settings, through awareness-raising activities, as well as various studies and projects aimed at supporting state activities. The sub-sections below briefly analyse the activities of these two agencies in relation to inclusive education and AT.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s initiatives on inclusive education and assistive technology
The UNESCO is a specialised agency of the UN, established in 1946 in order to promote international collaboration in education, science, and culture. The UNESCO has developed a number of soft law documents, which have as their overarching objective the provision of inclusive education. Following the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Equality, which was held in Salamanca, Spain in 1994, the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action emerged from the negotiations that took place during that conference. The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action was the first international human rights instrument which recognised the diversity of learners and the need for measures of reasonable accommodation. It ‘marked the beginnings of the acknowledgment at the international level of the importance of educating children in inclusive learning environments’ (Broderick, 2015, p. 297). Article 3 of the Statement urges UN Member States to:
include all children regardless of individual differences or difficulties [...and to...] adopt as a matter of law or policy the principle of inclusive education,
enrolling all children in regular schools, unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise.
(Salamanca Statement, para. 3)
The Salamanca Statement proclaims that ‘schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions’, and that this should include children with disabilities (Salamanca Statement, para. 3). The Salamanca Statement places particular emphasis on AT in the context of pre-service training provided to all teachers, primary and secondary teachers alike. The Statement outlines the fact that the knowledge and skills required by teachers include ‘assessing special needs, adapting curriculum content, utilizing assistive technology, individualizing teaching procedures to suit a larger range of abilities’, and so forth (Salamanca Statement, para. 41).
Since the Salamanca Statement was published, the UNESCO has led many initiatives and issued several policy documents designed to foster inclusive education. For instance, the UNESCO led the global ‘Education for All’ initiative, which had as its stated aim the objective of meeting the learning needs of all children and adults by 2015. Notably, the UNESCO has also adopted a ‘Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities’.7 That Model Policy builds a bridge between the work of the UNESCO and the provisions of the CRPD. It notes that the general principles contained in Article 3 CRPD ‘are all clear imperatives for ICT accessibility and assistive technology in support of inclusive education’ (UNESCO, 2018b, p. 16). The Model Policy further notes that access to appropriate ICT in education is often hindered by:
i Physical barriers, when inclusive ICT and learning environments, content and materials are not accessible;
ii Cognitive barriers, for some learners with intellectual disabilities or specific learning problems;
iii Content barriers, that may occur when the operating language of a device or software is not the same as a learner’s mother tongue;
iv Didactical barriers, where learning is ineffective and teachers lack the skills to facilitate inclusive education; and
v Financial barriers, relating to the cost of devices, hardware and software (UNESCO, 2018b, p. 10).
The Model Policy states that the removal of these barriers ‘requires the use of inclusive ICT that facilitate inclusive education’ - that is ‘commercially available products that are, as far as possible, universally accessible, along with assistive technology to provide access when this is not available via commercially available products’ (UNESCO, 2018b, p. 10).
The most recent report released by the UNESCO in 2018 contains multi-country studies on education and disability. The 2018 report concludes that on average, persons with disabilities are less likely to ever attend school; they are more likely to be out of school; they are less likely to complete primary or
A framework for action 19 secondary education; they have fewer years of schooling; and they are less likely to possess basic literacy skills (UNESCO, 2018a). Women with a disability suffer a double disadvantage and are often less likely to obtain a formal education when compared to men with a disability. The disadvantages experienced by persons with disabilities, as described above, are likely to intensify in combination with other factors of exclusion linked to location, poverty, and other personal and environmental factors (UNESCO, 2018b).
The outcomes of the 2018 UNESCO study can serve as guidance for country policies that seek to implement Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4)8 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,9 mentioned above in the introduction. The Agenda consists of 17 goals, with a view to ending all forms of poverty, fighting inequalities and tackling climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved by 2030. SDG 4 contains the goal of quality education, and of ensuring inclusive education and promoting lifelong learning. The CRPD Committee remarks that, in line with SDG 4 and the Education 2030 Framework for Action10:
all bilateral and multilateral cooperation must aim to advance inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, including [...] access to accessible and assistive technologies (emphasis added).
(CtRPD, 2014, para. 43)
The remarks of the Committee demonstrate the importance of accessibility and AT to the realisation of inclusive education under the CRPD as well as the important role played by AT in the work of certain UN agencies in the context of promoting education for persons with disabilities.