Twenty-five years after the Salamanca Declaration, education sector actors met in Cali, Colombia last September to review progress on inclusion and equity in education.
Organized by UNESCO, the Cali Forum aimed to reflect on the impact of the Salamanca Declaration, discuss next steps to move education forward towards greater equity and inclusion and secure renewed commitment from all stakeholders.
From the outset of the Forum it was apparent there are different interpretations and definitions of inclusive education and inclusion in national frameworks. In most cases, the emphasis is on the recognition of specific groups while others address inclusive education in a broader sense. This diversity of definitions has varying effects on the direction of policies and legal frameworks in different countries.
Accelerating education for people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa
The subject of several discussions was ensuring no one is excluded in education systems and the education for people with disabilities. Oumarou Mahamadou Manou, representing the Chairman of the West African Federation of Persons with Disabilities (WAFOD) and attending on behalf of the FOAPH-ANCEFA-HI consortium, highlighted the importance of developing and implementing inclusive education policies and sector plans as essential policy framework to ensure inclusion and equity in education systems.
He also mentioned the urgent need to make schools more accessible, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where facilities remain poor. The education of people with disabilities is a growing issue and civil society is mobilizing to ensure that inclusive education becomes a reality and that no child is left behind.
Ensuring inclusion through CSO advocacy
Interviewed by ANCEFA during the forum, partners shared their views on how to advance education equity.
The assessment of Salamanca 25 years later indicates that there has been progress in inclusive education in some countries around the world, but tremendous efforts are needed because progress is uneven and unsatisfactory. The reality is that civil society, including national education for all coalitions, has played an important role in the gains realized. Civil society must continue to work towards inclusion in education. This should be done in order to support governments in line with the priorities defined in guidance frameworks. Inclusion and equity in education are the guarantee of quality education for all.
CSOs are a crucial piece of the puzzle ! A common theme in the conference is the huge gap between policies and practice. Many countries have made huge strides in developing inclusive education policies and yet in reality at least 32 million school-age children with disabilities remain out of school globally. Without national education coalitions and disabled persons organizations pushing for inclusion in their respective countries, policies would simply remain on the shelf without sufficient accountability for their implementation. When different organizations work together their voice unite and they become a much stronger force for change.
CSOs need to review their individual efforts and develop a report that highlights achievements, what has worked, what has not worked, challenges and what needs to be done differently. This way, they will have a common position on how to support governments to ensure inclusion and equity in education. CSOs need to hold governments accountable and ensure all policies are implemented. There is a tendency of having good policies but no implementation.
Civil society has a role to play...
Community awareness and advocacy has led to improvements at the micro level. More needs to be done to include civil society in political forums and global policy dialogues where education system planning is discussed.
Although efforts have been made to promote quality inclusive education for all, education systems remain far off track from delivering transformational change. In addition to legislation, policies, programs and practices needing to be strengthened, governments must translate principles into action to create inclusive learning environments.
The Cali Forum provided an opportunity for dialogue and exchange to highlight the issue of inclusion and equity in education as part of the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030, including accelerating progress on SDG 4.
We must step up monitoring
Governments and partners increasingly recognize the expansive definition of inclusive education. As CSOs, we must step up our monitoring and ask for accountability from governments, to ensure no child is left behind and deprived of their right to quality education.