The overarching framework for inclusive education is SDG 4, the goal to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” by 2030. More specific to our continued commitment to education inclusive of persons with disabilities is Article 24 of the CRPD. Article 24 reads that “States parties recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to education” and outlines a set of standards for meeting this goal such as ensuring that students with disabilities are not separated from their peers on the basis of disability and that equal and inclusive education begins at the primary level continuing on for the rest of a person’s life whether through traditional or trade/skill-based education.
Signed and ratified by 168 countries, the CRPD is a significant success for the disability community, specifically in the area of education with regards to the clear and extensive rights extended by Article 24. However, in many countries, such as South Africa, which ratified the CRPD in 2007, where 70% of students with disabilities are out of school entirely, international agreement and legislation are just the first steps with a significant amount of work still needed to “make the right real.” There are three steps that are crucial to making the right real: visibility, validation, and inclusion/implementation. In South Africa, visibility made possible by organizations like Disabled People South Africa allowed for validation through the passing of the CRPD and The White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a national policy, validating the experiences of persons with disabilities and essentially validating the truth that persons with disabilities should and will be treated equally.
South Africa has stopped at the last and most difficult step of inclusion and implementation, allowing the rights outlined in official policy to translate to the everyday lives of persons with disabilities. In order to achieve equal education as promised by SDG 4 and the CRPD, Article 24, South Africa must outline a plan for implementation that includes persons with disabilities at the forefront of the process. A model for such implementation can be found in Finland, another signatory to the CRPD and a country with one of the most inclusive education systems in the world.
Similarly to South Africa’s White Paper, Finland passed the Basic Education Act, extending similar rights to education. In doing so, the Finnish government also outlined a plan for its implementation in collaboration with persons with disabilities, introducing required teacher trainings, building accessibility requirements, increasing funding to special resources, and most importantly, noting that public authorities must hold the school system accountable, creating regular checkups on these standards for inclusive education.
In developing a similar model of accountability, South Africa and governments like it who have yet to see true education inclusion, have the opportunity to see success through inclusion and implementation.