Inclusion in education

In an inclusive approach to education, all children can learn together, in the same classroom. In schools, disability is one of the main causes of exclusion. In addition, there are other obstacles to inclusive education, relating to social, material, and behavioural issues. Discover all of IIEP-UNESCO’s actions, activities, and resources to strengthen the capacity of countries to plan for inclusive education, which takes everyone’s needs into account.

While millions of children across the world do not have the opportunity to learn, people with sensory, physical, or learning disabilities are two and a half times more likely than their peers to never go to school. Making inclusive education a reality means reaching out to all learners, by eliminating all forms of discrimination. This challenge lies at the heart of the fourth United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) and the Education 2030 Agenda. Nevertheless, inclusive education is a complex process. It depends not only on supportive policies but more broadly on the cultural transformation of educational systems.

Since 2018, IIEP-UNESCO has been working to strengthen States’ strategies for inclusive educational planning and management, through actions to raise awareness and promote political dialogue on these issues, as well as training and research.

Raising awareness of issues in disability-inclusive planning

More than one out of every seven people in the world has a disability, according to the World Health Organization. Among the tens of millions of children affected, many do not have the opportunity to go to school, especially in low-income countries. Faced with a lack of data and knowledge on the identity and individual needs of these children, many countries do not know how to ensure their inclusion in their national education system. Persistent stigmatization, the often inadequate adaptation of schools, and the lack of training of teachers and materials to encourage inclusive education make access to school and learning even more difficult.


IIEP-UNICEF report: On the road to inclusion
IIEP-UNICEF report: On the road to inclusion

While the transition towards inclusion has begun in several countries, so-called ‘segregated’ educational systems continue to prevail globally, according to UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report 2020.

For the education of pupils with disabilities, national policies provide for a separate system in 25% of countries, an integrated system in 10 per cent of countries and an inclusive system in only 17% of countries. The remaining States apply a mixed system of segregated and integrated teaching.

Our round tables on inclusive education

To help governments develop educational planning that is able to address the needs of all learners, IIEP organized two technical round tables, with the support and collaboration of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Representatives of 16 national ministries of education and disability organizations met to discuss the difficulties and progress in planning for fairer and more inclusive educational systems, particularly for children with disabilities.

The conclusions and learning from these round tables led to a report, accessible online.

Read our report

Listen to Radio France Internationale’s report during the second round table

“Inclusive education can improve children’s success at school, strengthen their social and emotional development, encourage acceptance of others... and therefore also contribute to more inclusive societies. To take up this challenge, governments should engage in a process of holistic and systemic reflection, based on rigorous planning.” 

Jennifer Pye, IIEP inclusive education specialist

Inclusive education: Our training courses

The conceptual framework for disability-inclusive education, developed by IIEP and UNICEF, contributed to and helped structure an online course focused on the Foundations for disability-inclusive education planning.

This nine-week course, intended for officials in ministries of education working on issues of fairness and inclusion, has been delivered three times since 2020, with each session adapted to a regional context (Southern and East Africa; Asia; Southeast Asia and the Pacific). Overall, IIEP has trained more than 400 ministry of education officials worldwide.

Read a participant’s testimony

The impact of this online course on the professional practices of participants is the subject of an evaluation, based on the outcome harvesting method and the Kirkpatrick model.

Find out about IIEP’s training courses

Inclusive education and technology: Our research

Information and communication technology plays a major role in filling the learning gap between pupils with disabilities and those without. Open and distance teaching has long been considered a useful tool to provide access to courses and educational materials that might be out of reach of some pupils. With the pandemic, these distance learning systems have suddenly become essential to maintain an educational link with as many pupils as possible. Yet these tools are still too rarely inclusive or accessible. 

IIEP conducts case studies on emerging practices in inclusive digital learning, in collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE-UNESCO). In parallel, rapid assessments are conducted, in different national contexts, to measure the impact of COVID-19 on access to distance learning for pupils with disabilities. This work targets four countries:

Webinars and reports:

  • Webinar "Technology-enabled inclusive education: Emerging practices from COVID-19 for learners with disabilities" from Bangladesh, Mauritius, Rwanda (15 June 2021)

Webinar report

  • Webinar "COVID 19, educación basada en la tecnología: Prácticas emergentes en el aprendizaje digital inclusivo para estudiantes con discapacidad" (in Spanish with Colombian sign language interpretation) (29 July 2021)

Webinar info note (in Spanish)

Webinar report (available soon)

This project follows directly from UNESCO’s action on disability inclusion through open and distance teaching, particularly during the pandemic. More broadly, it is part of a global programme of the United Nations Partnership On the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD).

Gender-sensitive and crisis-sensitive educational planning

Whether in terms of schools or learning, there are many obstacles to inclusive and fair education. These obstacles often mount up. Beyond the central question of disability, other forms of exclusion are therefore also taken into account in IIEP’s research, training, and technical support activities. 

  • IIEP strives to integrate gender equality at the heart of strategies and practices in the education sector. In particular, the Institute is responsible for the technical leadership of the Gender at the Center (GCI) initiative, through its office in Dakar. Launched in 2019 during the G7 summit, GCI aims to reduce gender inequalities in the education systems of eight sub-Saharan African countries.
  • Similarly, as many countries face conflicts, epidemics, or natural disasters that are likely to exclude children from education, a crisis-sensitive planning approach is integrated into technical support services.