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Essay
Last Updated: 12/06/2007
Inclusive Education in Serbia
Kosana Beker

For the children with disabilities, two different types of educational systems can be broadly recognized: special education systems and inclusive education systems. The term "special education" was long used to describe the education of children with disabilities that takes place in special schools or institutions distinct from, and outside of, the institutions of the regular school and university system (Education for All and Children who are Excluded, UNESCO, 2001). This term has been replaced with the term "Special Needs Education" which, according to the International Standard Classification of Education (UNESCO, 1997), involves educational intervention and support designed to address special needs education. Inclusive education, on the other hand, means that a given school can provide a good education to all pupils irrespective of their varying abilities. All children will be treated with respect and ensured equal opportunities to learn together (UNESCO, 2004). Mostly owing The UN and its organizations, the international legal framework regarding inclusive education is fruitful, and inclusive education has been mainstreamed in many countries.

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted in 1989 and has been signed by 191 countries so far. Children are very important in every society, thus it is hardly surprising that this is the Convention with the largest number of signatures. CRC has several articles regarding the right to education, emphasizing that all children have equal rights, which means that children with disabilities are entitled to the right to education among and along other children. Article 23 of CRC focuses on children with disabilities:

1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community; […] 3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article […]  shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 23, paragraphs 1 and 3)

There are a lot of important documents related to the education of the children with disabilities, the most relevant of which are the Salamanca Statement and the UN Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

The World Conference on Special Needs Education was held in Salamanca, Spain in 1994. The participants recognized the importance of inclusive education for the children with disabilities and they proclaimed that children with disabilities have the right to be included in the regular school system and to be accommodated within a child-centered pedagogy in the schools capable of meeting their needs. In addition, the document adopted on that conference, known as The Salamanca Statement, declares that inclusive education is an effective means to combat discrimination and to change attitudes to persons with disabilities (The Salamanca Statement, 1994). Similarly, the UN Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities proclaims “States should recognize the principle of equal primary, secondary and tertiary educational opportunities for children, youth and adults with disabilities in integrated settings. They should ensure that the education of persons with disabilities is an integral part of the educational system” (Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, Rule 6, Education, UN 1993).

CASE OF SERBIA

Unfortunately, the existing situation in Serbia is not particularly positive for children with disabilities. They are marginalized in many ways, less-valued, uneducated, and often abandoned or institutionalized. Things which are taken for granted for the majority of citizens are either hardly available or unavailable for people with disabilities, such as inclusion in classrooms with peers, transportation, adequate housing, or access to the important institutions. Attitudes and approaches toward people with disabilities have changed during the last century, but it has only recently been recognized that they need protection against discrimination. Traditionally, people with disabilities have been presented not as subjects of legal rights but as objects of welfare, health and social programs.

Two models have been predominant over time, the medical model of disability, which assumes that the person with an impairment or condition is the problem and what is called for in response is care or a cure, and the social rights model, as a replacement for medical one, which focuses less on the functional impairments of the individual with a disability, and more on the limitations of a society that categorizes who is normal and who is not. According to the social rights model, it is the disabling environment, the attitudes of others as well as institutional structures that need to be changed, not the person's disability (Non-Discrimination in International Law, Interights, pp.214-215, 2005). This model recognizes the innate equality of all people, regardless of disabilities or differences. It also recognizes society's obligation to support the freedom and equality of all individuals, including those who may need demanding social supports (Ibid, p.215). Serbian laws and policies proclaim the social model, but in reality, the medical model had been maintained. Serbia (as part of former Yugoslavia) is one of the first states which signed and ratified The Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. As a member on the UN and candidate for membership in the EU, the Serbian government pronounces respectfulness for human rights, fulfillment of international obligations, and compliance for the UN proclaimed values.  Further more, the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia declares that "A child shall enjoy human rights suitable to their age and mental maturity" (The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 64, paragraph 1), and "Everyone shall have the right to education. Primary education is mandatory and free, whereas secondary education is free" (Ibid, Article 71, paragraphs 1 and 2). The Law on the Basis of the Education System proclaims that children with disabilities have equal opportunities for education as all other children (The Law on the Basis of the Education System, Article 2, paragraph 1/5). The National Action Plan for Children was adopted in 2004 and promotes the inclusive education as one of the basic principles (The National Action Plan for Children, 2004).

In spite of the prevalence of all these modern legal regulations, the position of children with disabilities did not change much. According to UNICEF Comprehensive Analysis of Primary Education (2001) 85% of children with disabilities are not included in elementary education. In addition, a survey conducted by Child Right Centre, Belgrade in 2006 has shown that from school year 2006/2007 preparatory school as of 6 years is mandatory the enrolment rate is 96-98%, but 60% of the children with disabilities do not attend elementary school (Vuckovic-Šahovic, 2006).

The main problem regarding education in Serbia is the nonexistence of policies for the implementation of laws. The two parallel educational systems exist now, regular schools practicing the inclusive education, and special schools divided by medical model (e.g. schools for deaf children, blind children, schools for autistic children, etc). The national non-governmental organization 'VelikiMali', Pancevo (www.velikimali.org ), pointed out through two research studies that discrimination in education toward children with disabilities is present in large number of cases. First of all, discrimination is present within special schools (for example only children with mild and moderate mental disabilities can attend special school-medical model) while children with severe and profound mental disabilities are considered as "non-educable" (Qualitative Education for All, VelikiMali, 2005). Moreover, if children with disabilities are included in regular schools they are faced with several problems. Teachers are not trained for work with children with disabilities, they are unsupervised, insufficient teaching resources, schools are inaccessible, regular curriculum is not modified in order to meet special education needs, and the lack of support in the classroom for teachers is evident. Therefore, what happens very often is that children from inclusive classrooms can not pass the exams, and they are transferred to the special schools (Discrimination in Serbia, Report, VelikiMali, 2007).

The inclusive education in Serbia depends on individual actions, successful examples existed only if either activists from non-governmental organizations, parents, experts, or teachers are giving their support to the children with disabilities. Additionally, a strong notion exists among some experts in Serbia that special education is the right of children with disabilities; they do not recognize that those children are forced to enroll in special schools which leads to segregation, exclusion, and discrimination. In my opinion, special schools are a deprivation of the right to equal education. The basis for this notion can be found in the Law for Prevention of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (2006), especially Article 19, which proclaims that organization of special education for children with disabilities will not be considered as discriminatory. Other experts, who are supporters of the inclusive education, interpret that article as a way of introducing special needs education rather then maintaining separated education for children with disabilities.

The consequences of separation of children with disabilities are manifold, as Stephen Klasen argues, educational policies can promote (or fail to stem) social exclusion as adults. This can happen through educational policies that promote social exclusion among children which then translates to social exclusion as adults, or policies that are not necessarily exclusionary but fail to prepare some disadvantaged children adequately to be well-integrated in the economic and social life of adult society (Klasen, Social exclusion, children, and education, 1999).

CONCLUSION

The implementation of peace education in the formal education system of Serbia could be one possible method to overcoming the problem of excluding children with disabilities. UNICEF describes peace education as schooling and other educational initiatives that: function as "zones of peace", where children are safe from violent conflict; uphold children’s basic rights as outlined in the CRC; develop a climate that models peaceful and respectful behavior among all members of the learning community; demonstrate the principles of equality and non-discrimination in administrative policies and practices; draw on the knowledge of peace-building that exists in the community, including means of dealing with conflict that are effective, non-violent, and rooted in the local culture; handle conflicts in ways that respect the rights and dignity of all involved; integrate an understanding of peace, human rights, social justice and global issues throughout the curriculum whenever possible; provide a forum for the explicit discussion of values of peace and social justice; use teaching and learning methods that stress participation, Cupertino, problem-solving and respect for differences; enable children to put peace-making into practice in the educational setting as well as in the wider community; generate opportunities for continuous reflection and professional development of all educators in relation to issues of peace, justice and rights (Peace Education in UNICEF Working Paper Series, 1999, quoted in UN Cyberschoolbus, emphases added). In my opinion, both the promotion of peace education values and principles and teh implementation of peace education in the regular educational system in Serbia would provide children with disabilities - as well as other children - with a chance to establish new social norms such as understanding and the acceptance of diversity. Through peace education, children could be taught to redesign old patterns of behavior and challenged to change the traditional way of understanding what is socially acceptable and desirable and what is not. Once learned and adopted, the values of peace education become an inherent part of every child, which as a result, would lead to the respect for the dignity and human rights of all. This is one way to achieving ultimate goal: education for every child.


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Kosana Beker is a masters degree candidate from the University for Peace in Costa Rica.
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