The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development was held in New York on July 9-18, 2019. In preparation for this major event, Africa had organized the Fifth Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD) in Marrakesh, Morocco, in April.
The purpose of the Marrakesh Forum was to conduct an in-depth review of some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the corresponding objectives of the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063. For the African continent, it was time to prioritize the crucial role of education, especially inclusive education, in attaining the SDGs by 2030.
The education of persons with disabilities remains a challenge in Africa
The SDGs recognize the crucial role of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education in the building of a better and more egalitarian world. The specific aim of SDG 4, target 4.5, is to eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations by 2030.
Four years after the adoption of the SDGs, a brief analysis of the implementation frameworks of educational policies in Africa shows that little progress has been made in ensuring inclusiveness and equity in and by the existing educational systems and programs.
Governments should honor their commitments, ensuring the inclusion of every person by investing more resources in combating the various inequalities and many disadvantages facing girls and boys with disabilities.
Advocacy for inclusive education
At the Forum, the Africa Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA), the West African Regional Portal on the Rights of People with Disabilities (FOAPH), and Humanity & Inclusion (HI) joined forces to lead a joint campaign for inclusive education for persons with disabilities.
The Forum provided an opportunity to discuss how the implementation of sectoral inclusive education programs can effectively contribute to the full realization of the rights of all boys and girls by 2030.
The three organizations hosted a booth to hand out information on inclusive education in West Africa and to tell the stories of children with disabilities enrolled in regular schools.
In addition, an interactive session, which was held to discuss the role of inclusive educational systems in the empowerment of girls and boys with disabilities, generated much debate.
At that session, two films were shown: a video on the key elements of inclusive education and a video on inclusive education in practice, including reports from children, teachers and others working in the field.
The consortium ANCEFA-FOAPH-HI called on decision-makers to fulfill their commitments to “exclude no child from school” and “move from theory to practice so that inclusive education becomes a reality in Africa.”
Many efforts still need to be made in order to achieve SDG 4
During the Forum, Giovanie Biha, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, lamented the lack of progress in many African countries in the implementation of the SDGs. As for ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, she noted that Africa has the lowest proportion of trained teachers in the world and that the supply of trained teachers at the primary and secondary levels falls far short of what is needed to promote inclusive quality education.
Strengthening our advocacy for inclusive education
Thanks to the advocacy of ANCEFA, FOAPH, and HI, inclusive education has been integrated into the key messages of the Forum. Three recommendations call for disaggregated statistics on children with disabilities, the strengthening of educational inclusiveness, regardless of the type of disability, and the introduction of school infrastructure and teaching tools that are adapted to children with disabilities.
From Marrakesh to New York
The High-Level Political Forum, convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, took stock of the progress made in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals. With the aim of spreading the message of advocacy for inclusive education, the consortium ANCEFA, HI, and FOAPH participated in the Forum and followed the presentation of reports resulting from national voluntary assessments.
The message of advocacy for inclusive education of children with disabilities was reinforced by the consortium at various levels in the Education and Academia Stakeholder Group (EASG) and also in the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities (SGPWD), which held side events where different aspects of truly inclusive education, excluding no one, were further discussed.
At a side event on July 12, sponsored by the Global Campaign for Education and its partners, Light for the World and Results, the challenges involved in making education transformative, equitable and inclusive drew considerable attention. The huge potentialities of education to change the life of a person with disabilities were demonstrated by the message from Haben Girmay, the deaf and blind Harvard-trained attorney and great defender of the rights of persons with disabilities, who shared her powerful story about education.
The question of inclusive education was given broad coverage by the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities (SGPWD), whose members stressed the importance of inclusive education sector plans and the urgent need to align national policies and laws with SDG 4.
The Forum showed that, overall, the countries are far from achieving SDG 4 by 2030, despite the positive reports some of them have delivered. The High-Level Political Forum no doubt provided a space to learn about successful initiatives and to gather inspiration for promoting faster implementation.
We hope that, at the next United Nations General Assembly in September, this strong commitment will be actualized, especially regarding the financing of inclusive education and the strengthening of partnerships for a more just and equitable world.