During this seminar, we wanted to make a state of the art of policy concepts underpinning education for children with disabilities. There has been a clear evolution in those policy concepts during the last 50 years. This evolution is the result of a radical change in the way we look at the place of people with disabilities in society.
During the 1970s, awareness was raised that disabled people were entitled to education and development.
Before, learning and developmental disorders were not explicitly appointed. They were often seen by teachers only as a personal failure of the pupil.
During the last quarter of the last century, however, an explicit pedagogical vision came about dealing with children with disabilities. The development of orthopedagogy as a science supported these developments. There was a strong diagnostic practice that tried to describe and diagnose learning and developmental problems. As a result, in the 1970s and 80s, a network of specialized institutions provided education for pupils with disabilities. This was frequently based on a broad attestation, diagnostic and labeling of the pupils. Education for pupils with disabilities was categorical and segregated.
The UNESCO Salamanca statement (1994) has lead, among other things, to a change in this way of thinking. The Salamanca statement was the outcome of the World Conference on Special Needs Education, and called for inclusion to be the norm. The same vision was also expressed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including education (2006). Both statements are based on a non-discrimination principle as expressed in human rights treaties. They assume the right of people with disabilities on inclusion in the ‘regular’ society. They are based on a new vision that sees disability as an inadequate alignment between the characteristics of a person and the environment (including the school structure).
The most recent evolution is the emergence of a link between education for pupils with special needs and the attention to diversity in education (a.o. education for children with problematic socio-economic backgrounds, education for children with different socio-cultural backgrounds). Some pupils have learning or developmental problems due to socio-cultural or socio-economic factors; for other pupils the problems are the consequence of mental, physical or psychological constraints. In reality, there is often an interference between the disability and the context in which the pupil is growing up. The new paradigms related to disability start from this finding. This interference remains one of the main questions in the debate: is it necessary that pupils with disabilities get a specific approach in education, or does a broad view on diversity in education offer enough guarantees?