Inclusive education in a post-COVID world: New report from Humanity & Inclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the huge inequalities already faced by children with disabilities in terms of access to quality education. In light of this stark reality, Humanity & Inclusion launched the advocacy report “Let’s break silos now! - Achieving disability-inclusive education in a post-COVID world” on International Childrens’ Day.

December 03, 2020 by Valentina Pomatto, Humanity & Inclusion, and Julia McGeown, Humanity & Inclusion
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5 minutes read
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A blind student at Sebeta School for the Blind checks her answers after taking a geography exam; Sebeta, Oromia, Ethiopia. June2019. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
A blind student at Sebeta School for the Blind checks her answers after taking a geography exam; Sebeta, Oromia, Ethiopia. June 2019.
Credit: Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the huge inequalities already faced by children with disabilities in terms of access to quality education. Children with disabilities have been particularly affected by school closures, both in terms of learning and also to access services that are often available through schools (nutrition, social protection, access to healthcare or psychosocial support).

Sadly, this is nothing new. For many years, children with disabilities have faced barriers to access education and realize their potential.

In light of this stark reality, Humanity & Inclusion launched the advocacy report “Let’s break silos now! - Achieving disability-inclusive education in a post-COVID world” on International Childrens’ Day.

Exclusion of children with disabilities requires action now and collaboration across sectors is the key to success.

In low- and middle-income countries, 50% of children with disabilities are out of school. More than 40% of countries in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean still have segregated education systems.

The data show that much of the world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 on ‘quality and inclusive education for all’ by 2030, and we are collectively flouting several international human rights conventions.

Too many obstacles to inclusion

Obstacles for the education of children with disabilities exist both within and outside the education system.

Within the education system, obstacles include inaccessible infrastructure, non-adapted materials and curricula, lack of teachers’ preparation on inclusive pedagogy, and segregation of children with disabilities in separated settings.

Outside the education system, obstacles include the persisting stigma and discrimination faced by persons with disabilities, limited access to quality health care, lack of assistive technologies and devices, violence and lack of security on the way to and from school and in school, inaccessible journeys to school, and household poverty.

Obstacles faced by children with disabilities in accessing and learning in schools

Working across sectors to ensure obstacles are addressed

The existence of multiple and interconnected factors causing education exclusion requires stakeholders to stop working in siloes, and instead collaborate across economic, social, cultural and protection sectors. In times of crisis, coordinated multi-sectoral approaches are even more important to address the complexity of children’s care, safety, wellbeing and education. All these issues are interlinked.

Inclusive education systems are those that cater for the needs of all learners and are able to provide quality education for all, in settings where all children learn together, free from segregation and discrimination.

Effective inclusive education policies for children with disabilities are those that ensure that the multiple barriers faced by children with disabilities are tackled, in coordination and in partnership with stakeholders amongst civil society and public authorities, and in synergy with other sectors of intervention like health, rehabilitation, social welfare, leisure and sports, just to mention some.

“The SDGs provide a blueprint for action to develop multi-sectoral responses and strategies. We cannot achieve the SDGs, unless we approach them in a multi-sectoral way. The success of Inclusive education is dependent on support for social protection schemes, water and sanitation and hygiene strategies, and access to health and rehabilitation services, for example”.

Julia McGeown, Humanity and Inclusion’s Inclusive Education Team Leader, speaking at the Kapuscinsky Development Lecture on November 20.

As an example, the Global Partnership for Education’s 2018 stocktake review documented how a number of countries (Kyrgyzstan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) considered that the lack of inter-ministerial coordination was the key barrier to the planning and implementation of effective disability-inclusive education programs.

Ten years away from 2030, when the Sustainable Development Goals should be completed, as governments and global education actors start to focus on lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to reimagine existing education systems. This is important not only address the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on schools and learners, but also to build resilience and improve inclusion through a multi-sectoral approach.

Calls for action based on experience and evidence

The experience of Humanity & Inclusion and its partners across the 27 countries where we implement inclusive education projects fed into this report, providing first-hand expertise and evidence. The report contains arguments, testimonies, case studies and a list of actionable recommendations for governments in low- and middle-income countries, aid donors and multilateral agencies.

A boy and a girl who are deaf enjoying a class together, playing a literacy game. They attend a mainstream school in Mugu, a rural part of Nepal. Photo credit: Julia McGeown
A boy and a girl who are deaf enjoying a class together, playing a literacy game. They attend a mainstream school in Mugu, a rural part of Nepal. Photo credit: Julia McGeown

The example in the picture shows a boy and a girl who are deaf enjoying a class together, playing a literacy game. They attend a mainstream school in Mugu, a rural part of Nepal. There is a specialist resource classroom to support children who are deaf but they spend most of the time in mainstream classes, mixing with children with and without disabilities. They use sign language to communicate together and are enjoying the activity. Their teachers have been trained in inclusive education pedagogy, and active teaching and learning methods.

But inclusive education is not a reality for most children with disabilities around the world.

Recommendations for governments and donors

The report calls on governments and donors to:

  • Increase the share of domestic and international resources for free, quality and inclusive education in low-and middle-income countries. There is a US$148 billion annual financing gap in low- and lower-middle-income countries to achieve SDG 4 from now until 2030. Additional costs due to COVID-19 related school closures risk increasing this financing gap by up to one-third.

“Government only allocates limited resources each year so we have to plan around this. We had to construct a new building due to the lack of classrooms in our school so we invested our resources there. Then last year, we installed frames for the doors. Hopefully, next year we will ensure safety measures by putting in railings and other construction activities.”

Head teacher, Sarlahi, Nepal
  • Adopt a twin-track approach to strengthen inclusive education systems at large, while also supporting strategies to address the specific barriers faced by children with disabilities. Realizing the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ requires investing first and foremost in the most vulnerable, with a view of equalizing opportunities and reducing gaps.
  • Establish mechanisms and initiatives for cross-sectoral dialogue, coordination and partnerships. This will allow to develop strategies where a number of linked services (i.e. rehabilitation, health, social protection, social support, nutrition…) for children with disabilities can be provided in a coordinated manner and at a single site, for instance in schools.
  • Actively involve and consult persons with disabilities, parents, learners and educators, as well the organizations that represent them in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of education policy and programming.

Read and download the report: Let’s break silos now! - Achieving disability-inclusive education in a post-COVID world

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