Report on human rights in Germany: The problem of special schools

Germany’s education system fails to include children with disabilities. The German Institute for Human Rights calls for reforms.

Blackboard with sponge and chalk

How inclusive is education in Germany? Photo: imago

BERLIN taz | “Children and young people have a fundamental right to school education – children with disabilities have this right just like children without disabilities” – with these words Beate Rudolf, Director of the German Institute for Human Rights, said on Wednesday the new human rights report for Germany before. The focus this time is on the right to inclusive education. The results are sobering: the report rates the efforts of the federal government to guarantee non-discriminatory access to the school system as inadequate.

Special schools are a core problem: the institute criticizes the fact that more than half of the students* with disabilities are currently still being taught at schools that are geared towards special needs education. The federal and state governments are therefore being asked to abolish special schools.

Pupils usually leave these schools without a school certificate: “The beginning of a lifelong chain of exclusion”, as the report states. The students then “often switched to separate and theory-reduced forms of training with fewer opportunities on the general job market”. Rudolph adds: “In the long term, poverty threatens them”.

Inclusive teaching, in which people with and without disabilities learn from and with each other, offers many advantages for everyone involved – “up to and including educational cost savings”, as the report says.

The federal and state governments are responsible

Across Germany, the federal states have been obliged since 2009 to reform their school systems in such a way that they do not discriminate against children with disabilities. The report now states: “Almost 14 years after the CRPD came into force in Germany, only very few federal states show sufficient political will to build an inclusive school system that is necessary under human rights and at the same time significantly reduce the number of special needs schools.” Only Bremen, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein would do that Implementing the right to inclusive education “with great commitment”, emphasizes Rudolf.

but the federal government is also required, according to the institute – even if the competence for the education sector in German educational federalism lies with the federal states, the federal government cannot completely shirk its responsibility. For example, in the counseling services that are available to parents of children with disabilities: The institute reports that parents have to spend a lot more money if they don’t want to send their children to a special needs school – and from counseling centers and teachers who advise parents not to refrain from applying for a place in an inclusive school.

The institute calls on the federal government to strengthen its own responsibility for school education in the sense of a cooperative federalism between the federal and state governments, for example by introducing an overall strategy and a contractual “Pact for Inclusion” between the federal and state governments. According to Rudolf, the principles of an inclusive school law must also be anchored in the Basic Law.

Climate change threatens human rights

In addition to the inclusion of children with disabilities, the report also addresses other topics: climate policy, the situation at the EU’s external borders with Belarus, protection of older people, child and youth-friendly justice, health care for people with disabilities.

When it comes to climate policy, the institute gives the federal government poor marks: the political efforts so far have not been enough to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees and thus “protect people from the current and future effects of climate change”. The question of what kind of climate change adaptation would have to be undertaken in order to preserve human rights even if “the hut is on fire”, as the deputy director of the institute Michael Windfuhr described the climate crisis, would still be sufficiently dealt with.

In view of the serious situation, Windfuhr considers the criminal proceedings against climate activists of the last generation to be inappropriate. “According to a human rights assessment, the acts of the activists do not constitute any form of violence and therefore do not justify the preventive detention of 30 days,” says Rudolf.

Overall, the report makes 50 recommendations to the federal government to improve the application of human rights in Germany. For example, the institute also demands that Germany advocate an international human rights convention to protect older people.

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