On March 3rd, the European Commission unveiled its 2021-2030 Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This strategy has an important focus on education and training which takes a holistic approach by looking at lifelong learning as an instrument for inclusion. The Strategy mentions that lifelong learning, among others, is indispensable for decent living for all persons with disabilities.
Data shows that young people with disabilities are more prone to early-school leaving, and that fewer learners with disabilities complete a university degree. Challenges related to the lockdowns and confinements in Europe are also taken into account throughout the Strategy, as demanded by civil society organisations, including LLLP; the global pandemic only adds to the urgency of significant measures to prevent the already-excluded to be irremediably left behind.
To counter the gaps in educational outcomes between learners with and without disabilities, the strategy foresees the following tools for 2021:
- A toolkit for inclusion in early childhood education and care (ECEC) with a chapter dedicated to children with disabilities
- Support to Member States in tackling shortages of teachers in Special Needs Education as well as the competences of all education professionals to manage diversity in the classroom
- Support effort to implement the Action Plan Educational Support and Inclusive Education – with a focus on accessibility and reasonable accommodation, adaptation of the curricula to learners’ needs (for instance: alternative leaving certificates allowing for continuation of education and national level) and providing courses for teachers in inclusive education.
With regard to EU funding to implement the education aspect of the Strategy, the Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes have been identified as the main instruments, on the account of their dedicated inclusion measures to promote disability-inclusive education. Cohesion Policy and the Recovery and Resilience Facility can also support national reforms in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The positive aspect is clearly that lifelong learning is being recognised as a holistic approach, applicable to different and delicate contests. While this has entered the European policy discourse, it is pivotal that the ambition of this strategy is matched by the funding made available to achieve it, through meaningful policies that take into account the invaluable contribution of education and lifelong learning to inclusion.