On 5th-7th May, the European Association of Services providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD), CECD Mira Sintra and the partners of the BEYOND project co-hosted the ‘To Inclusive Education and BEYOND’ conference to discuss the way forward for the realisation of inclusive learning opportunities for all persons with disabilities. The conference highlighted the importance of inclusive education, as a key step towards more inclusive societies and called on the EU and Member States to commit to moving towards inclusive education systems following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Portuguese Secretary State for Education, João Costa, opened the conference by stressing that now was the time to move forward with inclusive education, underlining that inclusion is about human rights and that human rights cannot be put on hold.
Speaking during his keynote speech, Tony Booth, co-author of the Index for Inclusion, drew attention to the importance of inclusive education in creating more sustainable communities arguing that schools must reflect our wider societies and address the current challenges that our communities face.
The conference brought together over 300 participants and provided the opportunity to take stock of the current state of inclusive education following the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, supporting learners, their families and schools with the transition back to the classroom was highlighted as a priority. With the uptake of technology accelerated during the pandemic, speakers also reiterated the importance of ensuring access to the resources and technology that teachers and students need. The access to these resources must be joined by the appropriate training to be able to maximise the potential of digital tools to support inclusion.
The conference was held in the framework of the Erasmus+ ‘To Inclusive Education and BEYOND project’ (BEYOND) which aims to empower special schools and service providers supporting children with special needs, to facilitate the transition towards fully inclusive education systems. Such services in the field of education play a key role in both the transition back into the classrooms and the move towards more inclusive education. The conference showcased the role of support services in creating inclusive learning environments, with these services working together with teachers, learners, families and other professionals to not just learn alongside their peers, but also enjoy all aspects of school life, such as sport, artistic or cultural activities.
EU Member States cannot ignore their legally binding commitment to implement inclusive education, made when they ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). A meaningful system change is needed to facilite the transition. Alongside access the appropriate resources and external support, training on inclusive education must be a core teacher training curricula and funding mechanisms must invest in inclusive, rather than segregated school systems.
The conference emphasised that education and training are vital steps to inclusive employment opportunities and the full participation of persons with disabilities in their communities throughout their lives. However, education is not a first step on the path to inclusion and the provision of early childhood support and care is essential for enabling children with disabilities to flourish from the very start.
Despite education being a competence of EU Member States, the European Union still plays a key role in supporting the development of inclusive education systems. “The European Union has declared its commitment to creating more inclusive education systems via the European Education Area, European Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Child Guarantee” said Luk Zelderloo, Secretary General of EASPD. He continued: “using the European Semester, the EU Budget and Open Method of Coordination, the EU has a number of tools at its disposal to monitor the state of inclusive education, provide funding opportunities for inclusion and support Member States to exchange proposing practices and the latest innovations in the field.”
Following the contributions of conference participants EASPD will build on the recommendations of its 2015 Salzburg Declaration, to develop new recommendations for policy makers and local stakeholders in the field of education. In the coming months national events will be held for the BEYOND project will be held in France, Belgium, Portugal, Austria and Finland. To be keep up to date with the occurrence of these events, please contact the project coordinator Rachel Vaughan.
Note to editors
The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.