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What are the guiding principles of accessible education

16/12/2013

Problems of the accessibility of higher education for persons with disabilities were discussed in Minsk. Representatives of NGOs, Bologna committee and the Ministry of education, universities’ teachers and practicing lawyers took part in discussions of the topical round table organized by the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities.

A lot of topical issues had been discussed: “very individual” approach to persons with disabilities who are entering higher educational establishments, inaccessibility of environment, absence of special educational equipment, unpreparedness of teachers and so on.

Enira Bronitskaya, the director of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities, says, that today we have to start getting rid of particulars and to set common vectors of development of the accessibility of higher education for persons with disabilities.

  • We are thinking of the common strategy, which would define the main directions of work in this sphere. At the first stage the Office’s specialists have defined 9 guiding principles. These principles have to become the norms, which the state would use during the process of regulating the right for higher education. They are the vectors that should be set in order we can move forward. Nine principles are not the final number, new ones can be added. We consider that the guiding principles should become the part of the common law on education.

Guiding principles

Inclusion of higher education

Inclusion is the process of increasing the degree of every student’s participation in academic and social life of an educational establishment and also a process of decrease of the degree of isolation of students from all the processes in and around an educational establishment. Every child has unique qualities, interests, abilities and educational needs. These children with special educational needs must have access to general educational system and have to become a part of this system on the basis of pedagogical methods oriented to the children’s needs. Inclusion has to fight against discrimination and to create a good atmosphere in the society, to try to reach the goal of providing the education for all and also to improve the quality and the effectiveness of education.

Equal access to higher education

The right of a person for higher education is identified with the right for comprehensive development of a personality in education process. Equal access presumes system approach and connection between all the components of higher education process, starting from entering the university by a person with disability and inclusion to all the academic and public university processes.

Nondiscrimination

The term discrimination includes any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular: 

(a) Of depriving any person or group of persons of access to education of any type or at any level; 

(b) Of limiting any person or group of persons to education of an inferior standard; 

(c) establishing or maintaining separate educational systems or institutions for persons or groups of persons; or 

(d) inflicting on any person or group of persons conditions which are in-compatible with the dignity of man.

The principle of nondiscrimination needs to be legislatively secured. The definition of discrimination in education has to be written in legal documents along with the measures aimed at defining discrimination in the sphere of education, its prevention, protection of potential victims by efficient mechanisms of administrative-legal regulation.

Besides, nondiscrimination becomes an estimation criterion for all the legislative norms on education. Obligatory mechanisms of reviewing the existing and assessing introducing norms of legislation should be set in order to define if the regulated by them norms exclude discriminatory motives. Principles of nondiscrimination should be used in the norms setting administrative legal relationship and procedures and guaranteeing rights and duties of the participants of educational processes.

Individual approach

All types and forms of disabilities should be counted. According to the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities: persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Measures aimed at further provision of the needs of disabled are very important. The measures taken are mainly compensatory and giving some extra possibilities to persons with disabilities. When the measures taken are aimed at raising the possibilities of students with disabilities the principle of reasonable accommodation, promoted by the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, should be taken into account. As the result any such measure should be of an objectively reasonable, personal and purposeful character.

Competence of academic staff

Academic staff should be prepared to introduction of inclusive practices, including reasonable accommodation, to the creation and the development of the infrastructure, university instructions programs, schedules and have the skills of communication and teaching persons with disabilities. A university is obliged to provide the fullness of communication between teachers and students, including the improvement of qualification of teachers and with the help of assisting technologies.

Correspondence of teaching methods

This approach demands from the system of education to revise the teaching methods and technologies in order to pay attention during the process not only to brilliant students, but also to students with special needs.

In order to do it, there is a need in highly skilled teachers, special teaching materials, knowledge of adaptive technologies and continuous professional training of academic staff.

The most successful inclusive models of teaching are: Differentiated Instruction, Cooperative learning, Peer Tutoring, or Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS).

Barrier-free physical environment and sufficiency of technologies and auxiliary devices

Persons with disabilities should have access to transportation, information, informational-communication technologies and systems along with other people. Students with disabilities should be included in academic process.

Responsibility of universities

We should understand that universities are responsible for accessibility of education for students with special needs. In this situation the possibility of solidary responsibility, sharing the responsibility with other subjects, is rather vague. University’s responsibility ends when it has used all its possibilities. This principle is provided by the guarantees of universities’ independence in accordance with Bologna principles.

Financing

The basis of state guarantees of getting education by citizens is state financing of education. A state should allocate for education annually not less than 10% of GDP and should guarantee the protection of corresponding items of expenditure in state and local budgets. Amounts and norms of financing of educational establishments should be indexed quarterly in accordance with the inflation. The amount of state financial support of higher professional education should be not less than 2% of GDP.

Educational establishments, regardless of their organizational and legal forms are granted exception from all forms of taxes.

In order to mobilize investment to the system of education a state should prepare a special system of tax benefits for enterprises, institutions and organizations regardless of their organizational and legal forms, natural persons, including foreign citizens who invest money to the development of educational system. Character, amount and order of the benefits are defined by the legislation.

A state also provides tax benefits for the property owners, renting out their property to educational establishments.