Statement on UN General Comment No. 4 on the Right to Inclusive Education

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Open Society Foundations applaud the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its adoption earlier this month of General Comment No. 4 on the Right to Inclusive Education.

The General Comment clearly defines inclusive education as a fundamental human right of all persons, including those with disabilities, that is “central to achieving high quality education for all learners at all levels, and for the development of inclusive, peaceful, and fair societies.”

The General Comment makes clear that excluding and segregating people from mainstream education due to disability, race, language, religion, gender, or poverty, and failing to provide reasonable accommodation and accessible learning environments constitute discrimination. States must act to end such discrimination and realize the right to education for all people. The General Comment calls on states to adopt a “whole systems approach” to inclusive education, where implementation is the responsibility of the entire education system and not only the classroom teacher. It underlines that support and training for inclusive education will always be necessary and should become part of the systems for managing schools and providing professional development for teachers working at all educational levels.

The General Comment also makes frequent and consistent reference to the need for early childhood interventions, including emphasizing their importance in supporting smooth transitions to pre-primary and primary inclusive education settings. Early childhood interventions can be particularly valuable for children at risk of developmental delays, serving to strengthen their capacity to benefit from education and promoting their enrollment and attendance. Open Society also welcomes the General Comment’s strong references to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education, together with the provision of support and training to parents and caregivers of young children with disabilities.

Open Society supports the committee’s important references to Goal 4 (to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”) of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to UNESCO’s Education 2030 Framework for Action, and the committee’s call for bilateral and multilateral funding agencies to ensure that resources for education advance inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

The committee makes the vital point that all data on education be disaggregated by disability, so that gaps can be identified and addressed. As reliable, meaningful data is crucial for implementing inclusive education, states must also make significant investments in measurements of inclusiveness and quality of educational provision in mainstream settings at different levels. International donors should support such measurements. Public access to such data is central to the transparency and accountability of education systems.

The full text of General Comment No. 4 is available in English, French, and Spanish on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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The Early Childhood Program, the Education Support Program, and the Human Rights Initiative of the Open Society Foundations work collaboratively on inclusive education. Earlier this year, they responded to a call for submissions on the draft General Comment No. 4 and supported grantees in several countries in doing the same.