2020 Global Education Monitoring Report*, which looks at social, economic, and cultural mechanisms that discriminate against disadvantaged children, youth, and adults, keeping them out of education or marginalized in it. Countries are expanding their vision of inclusion in education to put diversity at the core of their systems. Released at the start of the Decade of Action to 2030, and during the Covid-19 crisis, which has exacerbated underlying inequalities, the report argues that resistance to addressing every learner’s needs is a real threat to achieving global education targets.
The commitment of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education” and promote “lifelong learning for all” is part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledge to leave no one behind. The agenda promises a “just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met” (UN 2015, paragraphs 8 and 9). Social, economic, and cultural factors may complement or run counter to the achievement of equity and inclusion in education. Education offers a key entry point for inclusive societies if policymakers and educators see learner diversity not as a problem but as a challenge.
Education systems need to treat every learner with dignity in order to overcome barriers, raise attainment, and improve learning.
Inclusive education is commonly associated with the needs of people with disabilities and the relationship between special and mainstream education. Since 1990, the struggle of people with disabilities has shaped the global perspective on inclusion in education, leading to recognition of the right to inclusive education in Article 24 of the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD 2016 ).
This follows its 2019 edition, which focused on the closely related topic of inclusion of migrant and displaced populations in national education systems.
Inclusion in education as a process and result
Inclusion in education is, first and foremost, a process contributing to the achievement of the goal of social inclusion. Defining equitable education requires a distinction between “equality” and “equity”. Equality is a state of affairs (what): a result that can be observed in inputs, outputs, or outcomes. Equity is a process (how): actions aimed at ensuring equality. Defining inclusive education is more complicated because the concept conflates process and result.
This report argues for thinking of inclusion primarily as a process: actions that embrace diversity and build a sense of belonging, rooted in the belief that every person has value and potential and should be respected, regardless of their background, ability, or identity.
Poverty and inequality are major constraints. According to the World Inequality Database, despite progress in reducing extreme poverty, especially in Asia, it affects 2 in 10 children worldwide, 5 in 10, in sub-Saharan Africa.
Progress in education access is stagnating. Globally, an estimated 258 million children, adolescents and youth, or 17% of the total, are not in school. Poverty affects attendance, completion, and learning opportunities. In all regions except Europe and Northern America, adolescents from the richest 20% of households are three times more likely to complete lower secondary school than their peers from the poorest 20%.
Those most likely to be excluded from education are also disadvantaged due to language, location, gender, and ethnicity.In at least 20 countries with data, hardly any poor rural young woman completed upper secondary school.
Careful planning and provision of inclusive education can deliver improvement in academic achievement, social and emotional development, self-esteem, and peer acceptance. Including diverse students in mainstream classrooms and schools can prevent stigma, stereotyping, discrimination, and alienation. It is a prerequisite for education in, and for, a democracy based on fairness, justice, and equity. It provides a systematic framework for removing barriers according to the principle “every learner matters and matters equally”.
Inclusion improves learning for all students and must be the foundation of approaches to teaching and learning.
The 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report asks questions related to key policy solutions, obstacles to implementation, coordination mechanisms, financing channels, and monitoring of inclusive education.
The report collects information on how each country, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, addresses the challenge of inclusion in education and recognizes the different contexts and challenges facing countries in providing inclusive education. Its coverage is broad, addressing the albinos in sub-Saharan Africa, the stateless in Arab countries, the displaced Rohingya in Asia, the Roma in Europe, the Afro-descendants in Latin America.
It addresses these challenges through seven chapters: laws and policies; data; governance and finance; curriculum, textbooks, and assessments; teachers; schools; and students, parents, and communities.
Learner diversity is a strength to celebrate
The world has committed to inclusive education, not by chance but because it is the foundation of an education system of good quality that enables every child, youth, and adult to learn and fulfill their potential. Gender, age, location, poverty, disability, ethnicity, indigeneity, language, religion, migration or displacement status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, incarceration, beliefs, and attitudes should not be the basis for discrimination against anyone in education.
The prerequisite is to see learner diversity not as a problem but as an opportunity. Education systems need to be responsive to all learners’ needs.
The report makes 10 recommendations to achieve inclusion targets by the 2030 deadline.
- Widen the understanding of inclusive education: It should include all learners, regardless of identity, background or ability.
- Target financing to those left behind: There is no inclusion while millions lack access to education.
- Share expertise and resources: This is the only way to sustain a transition to inclusion.
- Governments should open space for communities to voice their preferences as equals in the design of policies on inclusion in education.
- Ensure cooperation across government departments, sectors, and tiers: Inclusion in education is but a subset of social inclusion.
- Make space for non-government actors to challenge and fill gaps: But also make sure they work toward the same inclusion goal.
- Apply universal design: Ensure inclusive systems fulfill every learner’s potential.
- Prepare, empower, and motivate the education workforce: All teachers should be prepared to teach all students .
- Collect data on and for inclusion with attention and respect: Avoid stigmatizing labeling.
- Learn from peers: A shift to inclusion is not easy.
Summarized by Broken Chalk