Education in Germany
by Mona Niemeyer
What is inclusion? What is education? And how can we implement an inclusive educational system? The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) brought the concept of inclusion and its implementation to the world’s attention. This new paper, entitled “The Right to Inclusive Education in Germany” discusses these questions referring to the German experience in realizing inclusion.
We cannot understand the importance of inclusion if we do not question our perception of the essence of education. Education bears the capacity to advocate critical thinking. Education can bring empowerment and participation which are key for social progress, growth and to limit the reproduction of the system. But, in our time, the purpose of education is the advancement of the economy which led to its marketization. Students are now customers and the main focus for evaluation is productivity. Rather than teaching the ability to question today’s order education now provides merely the ability to live in the existing system.
Participation is at the heart of democracy. Generally children are perceived as rather incapable to take their own decisions and as such to participate in society. This voicelessness of the child is reinforced by labeling children as disabled. In Germany, children with learning disabilities and children with emotional and behavioral difficulties (BED) form more that 50% of the entire group of children with special needs. The problem is that these differences in the child’s behavior are presented as scientifically proved medical conditions. Likewise, concerning the idea of intelligence, there are many debates about the way in which IQ should be measured but not about the concept per se. Are these children really living with a disability or is the system unable to cope with them?
The concept of inclusion provides two important shifts which distinguish inclusion from integration. First, it shifts the problem from being within the child to be inherent in the system. Up until now the child had to adapt to the system (integration) and if it was not able to do so it was labeled “special”. Under the inclusive approach it is the system which has to adapt to accommodate the child. Second, inclusion shifts the perception from a needs-based approach to a rights-based approach. Where there are rights there are also duties to realize these rights. The child is no longer disempowered being the subject of unfortunate circumstances one cannot change but it is now the victim of injustice. This notion of injustice empowers the child to invoke its right to education and to seek remedies.
The German experience, as one of the so-called pioneers of inclusion, shows the need for an independent monitoring body (in this case the German Institute for Human Rights) to help to interpret and clarify the human rights obligations of the convention. It shows how difficult it is for a society to rethink the concept of something as profound as education but also how very necessary it is. And it shows the still perceived injusticiability and inferior value of economic, social and cultural rights as the a priori Right to Education (Art. 13 of the ICESCR) is completely disregarded in this context.
 Niemeyer, M., The Right to Inclusive Education in Germany, 3 (1) Irish Community Development Law Journal 2014, pp. 49-64, available at https://www.tcd.ie/Education/assets/documents/NCLMC-E-Journal-Issue-1-Volume-3%20(June%202014)%20FINAL.pdf.