Inclusive education: Where do we start?

For The IIEP Letter, Jennifer Pye, IIEP-UNESCO, introduces the institute's new work to support countries in integrating disability-inclusive education into sector plans.


An estimated 58 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old and 63 million adolescents remain out of school, according to 2018 data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Of these children, those with disabilities are arguably the most excluded.

The latest data analysis from 49 countries confirms that persons with disabilities are less likely than their non-disabled peers to ever start or complete school or acquire basic literacy skills  (UIS, 2018). While there has been progress globally in directing attention to the education of children with disabilities within major international policy and human rights-based instruments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), progress in moving towards more inclusive education systems at country-level remains limited. Actions to ensure access and learning for the most excluded in inclusive school environments often continue to be haphazard.

Still, increased attention to vulnerable and minority children in both research and policy studies is heightening the global education community’s understanding of the complex drivers of exclusion, including poverty, disability, location, ethnicity, language, and gender. We also better understand the social and economic benefits of ensuring that all children learn together.

Moving towards inclusive education systems

Even if children with disabilities have access to education, this often takes place in separate, special schools that cater exclusively to specific impairments and serve only a small percentage of their population. Such schools are also often characterized by low expectations, narrowly defined curricula, and limited oversight from government services, especially in low-resource settings. In many instances, a myriad of state and non-state actors manage these schools. Much needs to be done to promote more inclusive education systems that reach all children.

Lack of data holds back progress

Governments need to evaluate how they address exclusion in practice, especially in regard to children with disabilities. One major hurdle is the lack of data. Data on children with disabilities are typically scant, with the result that many remain invisible. Moreover, there is little information on school infrastructure, disability screening programmes, teacher education programmes, and assistive devices and technologies. Even where data are available from school censuses, household surveys, and education management information systems, for example, coordination and use of the data is often lacking. Coordination between different line ministries and civil society organizations is also typically weak. As a result, education planners rarely have access to timely and accurate information on the status of children with disabilities in terms of education service provision. UNICEF, the Global Partnership for Education, and IIEP are trying to address these data gaps through their support for the development of the third volume of Methodological Guidelines for Education Sector Analysis.

UNESCO’s response

UNESCO as a whole – including the International Bureau of Education, UIS, and IIEP – is working to support governments and civil society in moving towards inclusive education systems based on a shared understanding that inclusive education is a process of reaching out to all learners, and by addressing all forms of exclusion and marginalization, disparities, and inequalities in access, participation, and learning outcomes.

To help advance this process, IIEP is co-hosting with UNICEF a technical Round Table on Disability-inclusive Education Sector Planning from 18-20 July 2018. This will involve other major development partners, government officials, and Disabled Persons Organizations. This diverse group of stakeholders from eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and the Pacific will discuss the status of inclusive education within their countries, including disability-inclusive education sector planning, with the aim of identifying key recommendations for future improvements.

A critical focus will be data collection and analysis in relation to educational planning. The findings will contribute to the development of future IIEP and UNICEF-supported training programmes on planning for inclusive education in 2019.

Read the rest of The IIEP Letter here!