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'We are desperate' - Students with disabilities left without solution as pupils return to school

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Wanting to get an education, but not receiving it: This is the sad reality for tens of thousands of children and teenagers with intellectual disabilities in Europe, according to Inclusion Europe, an organisation advocating for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. As the term begins in most European countries, pupils with intellectual disabilities still have not found a school which would accept them, are ostracized in “special schools” or only allowed to attend at reduced hours. The situation is now being called out in countries such as France and Ireland, while reports of violence and abuse continue not being dealt with in Romania.

According to the European Centre for the Rights of Children with Disabilities, in Romania, more than 31,000 children with disabilities are segregated in 176 special schools, and nearly 18.000 receive no education at all. Most of those who do attend school are victims of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by teachers and support staff including beatings, sedations, prone restraint etc. Despite high numbers of registered criminal complaints (in 30% of Romanian counties), so far no action has been taken by the government.

Romania is not the only country facing problems when it comes to inclusion at school'

'The waiting period is 4 years'

In France, parents and students have started opening up about the stumbling blocks put in their way on the website marentree.org: The platform gathers testimonies of students with disabilities and their parents, and speaks about “thousands of French children with a disability who cannot go to school like others”. For example Evangelline, 7 years, who has an intellectual disability in addition to autism and ADHD. She does not attend school: “Evangelline is on the waiting list for a special school. But the waiting period is 4 years, and the school has told us that it would be a complex task for them to receive our daughter.”

A parent of Abdoul Rahmane, 16 years, who has Down syndrome and autism, explains: “He stays at home with me without any care since kindergarten where I had to fight for his integration. We are desperate.”

In Ireland, on the other hand, the widespread “reduced timetable” system may breach children’s constitutional rights, according to organisations such as Inclusion Ireland which have recently started campaigning on the issue. The situation affects children of travellers and many children with special needs. Within the system, children may be considered “present” even if they only attend school for 1 hour or less, and the practice is “neither reported nor recorded”. The issue is currently under examination – but until further action is taken, children continue to be put on a reduced timetable to manage behavioural issues or when schools see themselves unable to meet their needs.

Inclusion at school: Often not well executed

Other examples from Norway, Finland or Lithuania show that inclusion at school is often not well executed, with a lack of resources and training preventing pupils from accessing the school closest to them, forcing them to attend only part-time or opt for a special school which may be far away from their family. “The right to education is clearly stated in Article 24 of the UN declaration for the rights of Persons with Disabilities”, explains Jyrki Pinomaa, President of Inclusion Europe. “Any restriction of this right is a direct violation of the UN CRPD.” Inclusion Europe asks all European countries to allocate the necessary resources so all pupils can attend the school of their choice, without being discriminated against because of their disability.

About Inclusion Europe

Inclusion Europe is the European movement of people with intellectual disabilities and their families. With 74 members in 39 European countries, it represents over 7 million Europeans with intellectual disabilities and many millions of family members and friends – altogether, more than 20 million people. the organisation has 30-year track record in defending the rights of people with intellectual disabilities and their families on the European level. Part of Inclusion Europe is EPSA, the European Platform of Self-advocates.

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Education

An ambitious and more inclusive Erasmus+ takes off with €28 billion to support mobility and learning

Catherine Feore

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The Commission today (25 March) adopted the first annual work programme of Erasmus+ 2021-2027. With a budget of €26.2 billion, the programme has nearly doubled in scale and is hoping to be more inclusive and have a stronger emphasis on both the green and digital transition. 

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commisioner Mariya Gabriel said: “The fact that the Erasmus+ budget for the next seven years has almost doubled shows the importance given to education, lifelong learning and youth in Europe.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated inequality, especially for young people. The principle of solidarity must be the driving force between our actions here, and we are working with organizations that represent and work with people who have fewer opportunities to help them gain access to this programme. I'm talking about people from less favoured socio-economic backgrounds, people living in rural areas, isolated people, or people with disabilities. For example, we cover the costs of people who are accompanying participants with disabilities.”

The new Erasmus+ programme provides opportunities for study periods abroad, traineeships, apprenticeships, and staff exchanges in all fields of education, training, youth and sport. It is open to school pupils, higher education and vocational education and training students, adult learners, youth exchanges, youth workers and sports coaches.

In addition to mobility, which counts for 70% of the budget, the new Erasmus+ also invests in cross‑border co-operation projects. These can be between higher education institutions (e.g. the European Universities initiative); schools; teacher education and training colleges (e.g. Erasmus+ Teacher Academies); adult learning centres; youth and sport organisations; providers of vocational education and training (e.g. Vocational Centres of Excellence).

The main features of the Erasmus+ 2021-2027 programme are:

Inclusive Erasmus+: providing enhanced opportunities to people with fewer opportunities, including people with diverse cultural, social and economic backgrounds, and people living in rural and remote areas. Novelties include individual and class exchanges for school pupils and mobility for adult learners. It will be easier for smaller organisations, such as schools, youth associations and sports clubs to apply, thanks to small-scale partnerships and the use of simplified grant applications. The programme will also be more international, allowing cooperation with third countries, building on the successes of the previous programme with exchanges and cooperation projects around the world. 

Digital Erasmus+: The pandemic highlighted the need to accelerate the digital transition of education and training systems. Erasmus+ will support the development of digital skills, in line with the Digital Education Action Plan. It will provide high-quality digital training and exchanges via platforms such as eTwinning, School Education Gateway and the European Youth Portal, and it will encourage traineeships in the digital sector. New formats, such as blended intensive programmes, will allow short-term physical mobility abroad to be complemented with online learning and teamwork. The implementation of the programme will be further digitalised and simplified with the full roll-out of the European Student Card.

Green Erasmus+: In line with the European Green Deal, the programme will offer financial incentives to participants using sustainable modes of transport. It will also invest in projects promoting awareness of environmental issues and facilitate exchanges related to mitigating the climate crisis.

Erasmus+ for young people: DiscoverEU now becomes an integral part of Erasmus+ and gives 18 year-olds the possibility to get a rail pass to travel across Europe, learn from other cultures and meet fellow Europeans. Erasmus+ will also support exchange and cooperation opportunities through new youth participation activities, to help young people engage and learn to participate in democratic life, raising awareness about shared European values and fundamental rights; and bringing young people and decision-makers together at local, national and European level.

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Education

Education: Commission publishes overview report on teachers in Europe

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has published the report ‘Teachers in Europe'. It sheds light on several key aspects of teachers' professional life, from careers and professional development to their wellbeing, in particular of lower secondary education teachers. Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabrielaid: “Teachers are the front-line workers in education. Having motivated teachers is an essential pre-requisite for a successful education system, in which pupils from all backgrounds can flourish and reach their full potential. The transition from face-to-face to distance learning has further underlined the vital role of teachers. I am confident that this report will be a great help to education policy‑makers and other stakeholders at national and European level.”

Although, on average in the EU, one teacher out of five works on a temporary contract, this ratio becomes one in three for teachers under 35 years of age. The report examines teachers' initial education, and policies that may influence the take up of continuing professional development. It also explores teachers' wellbeing at work, considering that, at EU level, almost 50% of teachers report experiencing stress at work. The report also suggests that teachers who have been abroad during their initial teacher education tend to be more mobile during their professional life. The EU programmes are the main funding schemes for teacher transnational mobility, compared to national or regional programmes.

The report covers all 27 EU member states, as well as the United Kingdom, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, North Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, and Turkey. This report was drafted by the Eurydice Network, which provides reliable information and comprehensive analyses of European education systems and policies. The network consists of national units located in European countries and is coordinated by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. More information is available online and the full report is here.

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Science

European Commission launches open access publishing platform for scientific papers

Catherine Feore

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Today (24 March), the European Commission launches its Open Research Europe publishing platform for scientific papers. The site will provide free-of-charge access to everyone: researchers, businesses and citizens alike. The platform will publish the results of research funded by Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation programme for 2021-2027, and its predecessor, Horizon 2020.

Open Research Europe gives everyone, researchers and citizens alike, free-of-charge access to the latest scientific discoveries. It directly addresses major difficulties often associated with publishing scientific results, including delays and barriers to the re-use of results and high costs.

The response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown the potential of open science to increase collaboration, illustrating how immediate access to publications and data have been crucial in helping researchers to find new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines. 

Currently, 91% of all publications and 95% of all peer-reviewed publications funded by Horizon 2020 are open access. Nonetheless, the ambition is that all scholarly publications stemming from the research funding of the Commission are made publicly available for free. In particular, the aim for Horizon Europe is that publications will be openly accessible from the moment they are published.

Open science ensures that publicly funded research and innovation systems are made more widely available, helping to share results, promoting innovation and improving access.  

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for said: “We need to accelerate scientific discovery through more collaborative and open research practices. By helping researchers to publish in open access, Open Research Europe removes the barriers to knowledge flows and cultivates scientific debate.”

The platform will be managed by F1000, a London-based company.

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