Implementing Inclusive Education: A Commonwealth Guide to Implementing Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities

Reiser, Richard
London: Commonwealth Secretariat, 2008, ISBN 978-0-85092-885-3, pp. 200
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Stephen Nocka
VSO International

Implementing Inclusive Education is a useful addition to the growing body of guidebooks on inclusive education. Reiser – himself a disabled teacher who now works as a freelance trainer and consultant on disability-equality issues – begins with a useful summary of Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which requires the growing number of governments that have ratified the Convention to realise the right of disabled children and adults to a good-quality basic education. He describes how disabled people and their organisations from some 25 developing countries were deeply involved in the five-year consultation and drafting process – a timely rejoinder to those who argue that UN Conventions and the human-rights approach in general represent a top–down, Western-driven agenda.
For national-level education managers considering how to move from an education system where disabled students are segregated in ‘special schools’ to an inclusive education system where they are educated alongside their friends in mainstream schools, the table on page 35, summarising what an inclusive education system should look like at national, regional, and school levels, will be particularly helpful.
Reiser makes some strong points which will be useful to advocates of inclusive education. For example, he provides a strong economic rationale for a shift from Special to Inclusive Education, citing OECD estimates that the average cost of educating disabled students in segregated schools is seven to nine times higher than educating them in mainstream schools. In addition he includes a useful, if somewhat instrumentalist, list of the economic benefits of inclusive primary education (including reduced welfare costs; increased economic productivity; rises in tax revenue; reductions in drop-out and repetition rates; and costs savings from the closure of (more expensive) Special Schools) (p. 38).
Also worth noting are his arguments about the importance of the participation of disabled people's organisations in national education policy making and implementation processes (and the need for increased funding and capacity building to enable them to undertake this role effectively), and his arguments against the common assumption that ‘inclusive education is not for children who have very severe physical and intellectual impairments’ (p. 138).
I would take issue with one of Reiser's arguments. In his impassioned presentation (‘Developing Inclusive Education: A Commonwealth Perspective Talk by Richard Rieser at Uganda CHOGM People's Forum, November 2007’, included on one of the CD-Roms that accompanies the Guide), Rieser argues: ‘The key thing is to make sure we have high quality teaching. That is the key issue.’ As that is the central argument of VSO's Valuing Teachers research and advocacy, I could hardly disagree. However, despite noting the need to recruit sufficient numbers of teachers to reduce class sizes, he goes on to propose a solution that could in fact damage the quality of the education being provided, or at least not improve it significantly.
His solution is to ‘utilise those within the community who have completed their elementary education to support learning’ (p. 34). This would be fine if it was about using community members to identify disabled children who have never been to school, in order to support them to access education; or to assist those who have dropped out to rejoin the system; or to assist qualified teachers to include disabled students more effectively in their lessons (as demonstrated in the examples that he gives). However, in his presentation he seems to advocate the recruitment of disabled secondary-school graduates to work as teachers: ‘Let's enlist all those who actually graduate from high school to do one or two years of national service….so that they can actually go into the primary schools of the country, and provide a sufficient ratio so that all children can learn. That would be an easy thing that could be done’ (a quotation from the video presentation mentioned above).
It would indeed be easy, and lots of governments with major teacher shortages are doing it – deploying not just disabled secondary-school graduates, but untrained teachers, particularly to rural schools where shortages are highest. For example, the practice is commonplace in West Africa, in countries like Senegal, The Gambia and Cameroon; in other parts of Africa (for example, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda); and in Asia (in countries such as India and Nepal). However, research undertaken by VSO (Mpokosa et al. 2008: ‘Managing Teachers: The Centrality of Teacher Management to Quality Education. Lessons from Developing Countries’; Gardner et al. 2011: ‘Qualifying for Quality Unqualified Teachers and Qualified Teacher Shortages in The Gambia’; Beutel et al. 2011: Teachers Talking Contributions of Primary Teachers to the Quality of Education in Mozambique’) has shown that the deployment of untrained teachers at best replicates poor teaching methodologies – such as rote learning and dictation – and at worst amounts to little more than babysitting.
The UNESCO estimate, that developing countries need to recruit 1.9 million additional primary teachers by 2015 (UNESCO 2011: ‘The EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011: The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education’, p. 1), presents an unprecedented opportunity to address long-standing imbalances in class sizes, in teaching quality between urban and rural schools, and between male and female teachers; it should indeed also be used to address the under-representation of disabled teachers. All teachers, however, need to be professionally trained and provided with regular in-service training, if the quality and inclusiveness of education in developing countries is to be improved.
One omission from Reiser's book is any mention of Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which outlines principles of non-discrimination in the workplace against those with disabilities. I would therefore add a few more measures that governments should take to help them to implement inclusive education. They should prohibit discrimination against disabled people in teacher recruitment, posting, and promotion systems through the use of laws, guidelines, codes of ethics, etc.; and encourage them to remain in the profession, by providing appropriate incentives and allowances. Finally, they should take note of the vital role that education leadership has to play in guarding against discrimination. Education systems are only as inclusive as their leaders' inclusiveness. Training and support for head teachers to help them to support disabled and non-disabled teachers to deliver education inclusively to all children is therefore vital, but often sorely lacking.