Despite efforts from governments, policymakers and practitioners to ensure inclusive quality education for all learners, disability continues to be one of the primary causes of educational exclusion.
According to one estimate, 19 million of the 58 million out of primary school children are those with disabilities (“Towards a disability Inclusive Education” Background paper for the Oslo Summit on Education for Development 6-7 July, 2015). And while increasing numbers of children with disabilities seem to be making it into school in some contexts; they continue to be the most vulnerable, showing low rates of attendance and retention.
Donors are increasingly highlighting the importance of reaching people with disabilities if the commitment of the Sustainable Development Goals on leaving no one behind is to be achieved. For example, DFID’s new Education Policy, ‘Get Children Learning’ prioritises children with disabilities, seeking to address critical evidence gaps on the combined package of support needed to get children with disabilities learning, and how to scale this in resource-constrained contexts.
On 24th July, the Department for International Development (DFID), alongside the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance (IDA), will host the first Global Disability Summit in London to address disability inclusion in the poorest countries in the world.
Inclusive education will be one of four identified themes of the Summit which aims to:
- raise global attention and focus on a neglected area;
- bring in new voices and approaches to broaden engagement;
- mobilise new global and national commitments on disability; and,
- showcase best practice and evidence from across the world.
Creating a collective and sustainable agenda
Hosted by the Impact Initiative and the REAL Centre at the University of Cambridge, with support from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, a two-day ‘Pre-Global Disability Summit Workshop’ held in Cambridge on 26th-27th April brought together 35 individuals from key bi- and multi-lateral agencies (such as, DFID, UNICEF, UNESCO, NORAD, and GPE), INGOs (such as, Sightsavers, Light for the World, Leonard Cheshire Disability) and Disabled People’s Organisations (United Disabled Persons of Kenya) to work together to help inform discussions at the Summit and to create a collective and sustainable agenda to keep disability a high priority in international discussions.
The workshop also included a number of key researchers and country partners from four projects funded under the ESRC-DFID Strategic Partnership which focus on disability and education (and recently published in the Impact Initiative’s ‘ESRC-DFID Research for Policy and Practice: disability and education) with participants from Pakistan, Kenya, South Africa and the USA.
The central aim of the workshop was to find a collective voice to:
- generate a proposal for key messages and principles to inform and shape Disability Summit 2018 with respect to the theme on inclusive education; and,
- consider the development of a collective and sustainable platform for disability and education that will aim to keep disability on the global agenda beyond 2018.
Key discussion points
Participants engaged in discussions on:
Inclusive Education priorities and key messages
A key aim of the Workshop was to generate a proposal for key messages and principles to inform and shape Disability Summit 2018 with respect to the theme on inclusive education. Delegates explored five interlinked actions that could help achieve transformational and cost effective education for children with disabilities and discussed how they could be developed so as to reflect collective priorities:
- Generate and use robust data and evidence for inclusive planning, programming and ensuring accountability;
- Develop, train, and support an inclusive professional education work force;
- Achieve targeted financing and ensure national systems promote the implementation of inclusive education;
- Reduce barriers to inclusion by adopting a cross-sectoral and life course approach; and,
- Involve people with disabilities, their families and Disabled People’s Organisations in furthering the inclusive education agenda.
Inclusive Education Facility
To achieve quality disability inclusive education, a proposed Inclusive Education Facility will aim to fill the current coordination gap between governments and agencies, contributing to a better policy dialogue as well as building evidence and providing support for learning and innovation. The Facility will work to sustain and follow-up on the renewed commitments to inclusion emerging from the new Sustainable Development Goals thereby ensuring children with disabilities are able to fully benefit from global progress in education development.
The group considered the possible priorities and potential hosts of a new Inclusive Education Facility and potential activities that could be undertaken to support the Facility. Three potential priorities were identified and discussed:
- Technical assistance and capacity development
- Innovation funding
- Global public goods
Contributions to the summit and beyond
The Workshop concluded by delegates considering some of the connections and collective actions that could be undertaken to take discussions forward beyond the Summit to achieve real change.
The importance for research to inform actions at the Disability Summit and in the future
A recurring theme in the discussions was the need for research in order to influence education policymakers to develop effective responses at scale. A number of ESRC-DFID funded research projects were represented at the workshop, projects which provide valuable evidence on what governments must consider in order to ensure that children with disabilities benefit from quality education without discrimination or exclusion:
- Tikule Limodze (Let’s Grow Together) is gathering evidence related to the importance of early years education, and specifically the role of preschool caregivers in providing support to children with disabilities in rural Malawi. The project draws attention to the barriers to education faced by children with disabilities and highlights that quality training should be provided to early childhood education volunteer caregivers in the area of disability and inclusion.
- The Teaching Effectively All Children (TEACh) project highlights that in order to ensure marginalised children such as children with disabilities are not excluded from the classroom it is vital that teachers are equipped with skills to teach in diverse classrooms.
- “Constructing a Global Framework for Analysis of Social Exclusion From and Within Learning Systems” which is collecting data from six countries (Afghanistan, India, Sudan (Darfur State), Sierra Leone, Morocco and Tunisia). Evidence generated from this project shows that among countries (particularly those affected by conflict and crisis) children are less likely to attend school if they have disabilities.
- ‘Bridging the Gap: Examining Disability and Development in Four African Countries’ which looks as the relationship between disability and multidimensional poverty in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
Parul Bakhshi, Principal Investigator for the “Constructing a Global Framework for Analysis of Social Exclusion From and Within Learning Systems” project said, “It has been very useful to have conversations with policymakers as well as with representatives from NGOs and DPOs as we don’t often get the opportunity. It is comforting to know that our research fits into a common collective and thanks to this Workshop, I can see the opportunities of how our research can fit into the ongoing dialogue.”
To the Summit and beyond!
The workshop provided an informal space for researchers, policy makers and practitioners concerned with the disability and education agenda to meet and identify synergies and collaborations beyond 2018. It has resulted in a first draft of collective document on inclusive education to inform the Global Summit. Key messages generated from the Workshop provide clear direction on what is required in order to ensure that children with disabilities are able to access school and learn.
Nidhi Singal, Reader in Education at the University of Cambridge and Disability-theme Academic Lead for the Impact Initiative said, “It has been a very exciting two days which has brought together a range of stakeholders to find a collective voice on improving the quality of education to ensure children with disabilities are learning. This is an opportune time to not only highlight the importance of Inclusive Education at the Global Disability Summit, but to keep disability on the global agenda and keep our promise to ensure no one is left behind in education.”
Ian Attfield, Senior Education Advisor for DFID said, “This has been a key event in the lead-up to the Summit. Engagement has enabled preparation for agenda-planning on the Inclusive Education theme.”