How to Finance Disability Inclusion in Education to Transform Systems and Leave No One Behind

Resource Type

This blog was originally posted on, on May 23, 2024,  by Hanna Alasuutari, The World Bank, Pascal Bijleveld, ATscale, Kamal Lamichhane, Institute of Human Sciences at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, Hannah Loryman, Sightsavers, Suezan Lee, Center for Education, and Raphaelle Martinez, GPE Secretariat. 

Reflections and recommendations to enable financing of inclusive education in lower-income countries.

Teacher Phalla helps her students to read in Khmer braille language.
Teacher Phalla helps her students to read in Khmer braille language.
Credit: GPE/Krousar Thmey

Around the world, there are an estimated 240 million children with disabilities. They are 2.5 times more likely to not have access to education. While countries are making progress to close income gaps, inequality for individuals with disabilities is growing. To truly transform education systems to be inclusive for all, addressing financing challenges is paramount.

Despite global commitments to disability inclusion in education through international human rights treaties and conventions, there remain significant challenges to plan, budget and finance inclusion.

Cohosted by Special Olympics and GPE, the 2024 Brookings Symposium on education systems transformation for and through inclusive education convened key policy and decision makers, researchers, practitioners and learners with disabilities to answer: “what would it take to transform education systems to be truly inclusive for learners with disabilities?”

As part of the symposium, GPE convened a workshop on financing inclusive education to examine challenges and solutions for lower-income countries. We share here our reflections and recommendations to make financing inclusive education a reality together with panelists of that workshop.

Investing in inclusive education brings returns and is affordable

Many countries are still under the perception that inclusive education is unaffordable, but in fact the costs are reasonable, and a significant portion of expenditure benefits all learners.

Inclusive teacher training and leadership development provide school staff with values, knowledge and pedagogical approaches to help them engage better with every student and more effectively support their learning.

There is consistent and compelling evidence on the returns of education for increased employment, stability and income at an individual level, and for societies, including research from Nepal and the Philippines.

Providing assistive technology to meet the learning needs of children with disabilities increases their later lifetime income by more than US$100,000 in low- and middle-income countries.

When children gain greater independence and can attend school, carers and families also have more time to work and earn an income. Every dollar invested in providing assistive technology can bring a $9 return in part because of these ripple effects.

The cost of exclusion is significant, with a GDP loss ranging from 1% to 7% if persons with disabilities are excluded from education and the labor market.

The paradox of having country commitments and evidence of returns on investment for inclusive education yet persistent under-financing stems from: a lack of data on children with disabilities, evidence gaps on effective models and limited information on cost data for targeted interventions. These gaps hinder planning, costing and budgeting for disability-inclusive reforms in turn.

How to budget for inclusion

Many system-strengthening elements for disability inclusion should be included in education budgets regardless. Universal design in school buildings, more flexible student assessment and inclusive curriculum can benefit all students.

Costs become high only if they’re an add-on at a later point, such as school buildings needing retrofitting for inclusion after they’re constructed.

A main barrier to budgeting for inclusion is capturing its actual costs. Costs and cost drivers vary between countries, but personnel costs, including capacity building, are likely to be the highest.

Examining incremental costs can tell us the cost of scaling up inclusive education. In Senegal, scaling up inclusive education for children with visual impairments could cost as little as 0.2% of the country's GDP (gross domestic product) annually.

Different financial formulas exist for budgeting and their application should be based on:

  1. Input: Resources and materials allocated to schools (funding for teachers, infrastructure, supplies).
  2. Output: Outcomes and achievements of students (test scores, graduation rates).
  3. Throughput: Processes and activities taking place within the education system (teaching techniques, support services).

Decentralized budgeting and integrating marginalized groups into conversations about costs and financing are essential to making education financing equitable and combatting a national government tendency to prioritize the majority in classrooms.

Funding mechanisms need to be decentralized, transparent, accountable and autonomous.

Governments also need to use a consistent framework, such as an education sector plan, to assess their progress toward an inclusive model of education, as well as tools to assess adequacy and equity of public financing.

A call to action

While external funding provides opportunities for governments in low- and middle-income countries to test initiatives for disability inclusion, scaling up requires sustainable domestic financing.

There is an urgent need to build a case for inclusive education within the broader dialogue on education finance, rather than treating equity as an add-on.

As financial resources are scarce and priorities are many, governments need to look for efficiencies. Costs become progressively smaller as scale is achieved, such as with large-scale procurement of assistive devices. Technologies, including artificial intelligence, can also reduce costs in the future.

To better cost and budget for inclusive education, we call on the education community to:

  1. Build evidence to understand which strategies are most effective for disability inclusion and their costs.
  2. Strengthen countries’ data systems. Standardized data on children with disabilities is essential to making a compelling case for investment in inclusive education and to properly cost and budget interventions.
  3. Communicate the value for money of disability inclusion and inclusive education at large to elevate it as a priority investment for ministries of finance.
  4. Strengthen collaboration between sectors to address data gaps and remove barriers, including jointly thinking about the potential impact of interventions not just on schools, but also employment.
  5. Address the lack of communication between finance and education ministries, including equipping the education sector to communicate effectively with ministries of finance and parliaments.

It is clear that inclusive education is not only a matter of human rights, but also an economic imperative. The cost of exclusion is significant. It is crucial that we move this agenda forward to ensure all children have the opportunity to go to a school where they are safe, participating and learning.


Key Area
disability-inclusive education

Back to Top

Stay updated with the latest information

Sign-up for our newsletter and get updates sent directly to your inbox.