What does recent evidence from data and policies say about inclusion in education?

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This blog was originally posted on world-education-blog.org, by GEM Report, on March 13, 2024

This week is the 30th anniversary of the Salamanca Declaration, a seminal moment in global education policy that defined the concept of inclusive education. Four years ago, the 2020 GEM Report, All means all, focused on inclusion, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was amplifying many of the factors that lead to exclusion in education. This blog looks at some recent quantitative and qualitative trends since our major publication on the issue.

Exclusion is rife for millions

Out of school rates had been declining but at a slow pace but in 2022 the out-of-school population increased for the first time, reaching 250 million. The number out of school has barely changed in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990.  And such numbers are likely to be underestimated, as data are difficult to capture in areas of the world affected by crises, such as Sudan, Palestine, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and Myanmar.

Identity, background and ability continue to dictate education opportunities. The new Her Education Our Future Factsheet showed that, while the world has achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education gross enrolment ratios on average, extreme gender exclusion exists in some corners of the world: 80% of school-aged Afghan females were out of school.

Disadvantages can stack up to exacerbate exclusion, as the WIDE database shows. Girls’ disadvantage is exacerbated due to location, for instance. In Mozambique, there are 73 young women in school for every 100 young men. But while there is gender parity in urban areas, there are 53 young women in school for every 100 young men in rural areas.  Disparity is even more exacerbated in terms of wealth. In Côte d’Ivoire, there are 72 young women in school – but only 22 poor young women – for every 100 young men.  New WIDE data based on the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys shows that children with a disability are 7 percentage points less likely than children without functional difficulties to complete primary school.

Data from the 2021 PIRLS reading assessment show that in upper-middle- and high-income countries, children who speak at home the language they are taught in school are 14% more likely to read with understanding than those who do not at the end of primary. At the end of lower secondary, data from the 2022 PISA show that adolescents speaking the language of instruction at home were over 40% more likely to be able to read with understanding compared to those who did not. In 2023, Slovakia’s parliament failed to adopt an amendment to the School Act, which would take steps to address discrimination against Roma children.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) learners have seen walls rise up in education settings in the United States, where 7 states have introduced ‘don’t say gay’ laws for curricula since our 2020 Report was released. There have been protests against LGBTQ curriculum content in Canada.

During COVD-19 at least half a billion students worldwide (31%) could not be reached by any form of remote learning, rising to 72% of the poorest.

But there are signs of improvement

In the face of these worrying signs, many countries continue to demonstrate commitment to the ‘all means all’ approach outlined in the 2020 GE Report.  Since the release of the 2020 GEM Report, 8 more countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, bringing the total to 164 signatories. Another 36 additional countries have now legally recognized national sign languages since 2020.

The radical inclusion policy in Sierra Leone, is one example, as is the first ever strategy on inclusive and special education introduced in Austria in 2021 and the new guidelines on equitable and inclusive education in line with the New Education Policy in India in 2020. The state of New South Wales in Australia developed an Inclusive Education Policy, which declares that “all students, regardless of disability, ethnicity, socio-economic status, nationality, language, gender, sexual orientation or faith, can access and fully participate in learning, alongside their similar aged peers, supported by reasonable adjustments and teaching strategies tailored to meet their individual needs”.

The PEER country profiles compiled for the 2020 GEM Report showed that a quarter of countries had laws making provisions for educating children with disabilities in separate settings. Some have changed their stance on this front as well. In 2022, a new decree by the government of the Flemish Community in Belgium enabled learners with learning disabilities and special educational needs to be able to follow lessons in mainstream education as far as possible, with extra support.

Denmark began a new special education training programme for teachers in 2022. Uganda began training teachers language resilience in refugee areas in 2023. Japan also tackled language barriers after a survey showed that 19,000 primary or lower secondary school-age children of foreign nationalities in Japan do not attend school at all, introducing a new policy in 2020 to improve Japanese language education.

In the province of Manitoba in Canada, a new policy was introduced in 2022, entitled Mamàhtawisiwin: The wonder we are born with, bringing indigenous elders into the classroom to help indigenous students succeed in school. Bulgaria introduced a new inclusive education strategy for learners, including Roma, who our regional report showed suffered particular exclusion.

The growth of technology has brought opportunities with one hand as it has brought challenges with another, as a new advocacy brief being launched on the subject this week will show. But there is no doubt that inclusive technologies have major advantages in that they support accessibility for students with disability. The 2023 GEM Report found that 87% say that accessible technology devices, including smartphones and tablets, were replacing traditional assistive tools most or all of the time. Digitizing textbooks can also make them more accessible. Over 92 countries have also now ratified the 2013 Marrakech Treaty allowing reproduction of published works in accessible formats for people who are print-disabled.

This is clearly a marathon, not a sprint. Achieving full inclusion and meeting every learner’s needs will take time. We hope you will join us in celebrating countries that have recognized the benefits of an inclusive approach to education and calling on others to follow suit.


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Inclusive Education


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