The world over less than ten per cent of the countries have laws that help ensure full inclusion in education, according to UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report: Inclusion and Education.
The report provides an in-depth analysis of key factors for exclusion of learners in education systems worldwide including background, identity and ability. It identifies an exacerbation of exclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic and estimates that about 40 per cent of low and lower-middle income countries did not support disadvantaged learners during temporary school shutdown.
Noting that a move towards more inclusive education was imperative to rise to the challenges of the times, UNESCO Director general Audrey Azoulay noted that rethinking the future of education was important following the Covid-19 pandemic, which further widened and put a spotlight on inequalities. She said that failure to act would hinder the progress of societies.
PERSISTENCE OF EXCLUSION
The Report is the fourth UNESCO GEM Report that looks into the progress across 209 countries in achieving the education targets adopted by UN Member States in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In the report, UNESCO stated that 258 million children and youth were entirely excluded from education because of poverty. In low- and middle income countries, adolescents from the richest 20 per cent of all households were three times as likely to complete lower secondary school as were as those from the poorest homes. Among those who did complete lower secondary education, students from the richest households were twice as likely to have basic reading and mathematics skills as those from the poorest households, the report said.
Despite the proclaimed target of universal upper secondary completion by 2030, hardly any poor rural young women complete secondary school in at least 20 countries. The numbers were mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. The UNESCO report also shows that 10-year old students in middle and high-income countries who were taught in a language other than their mother tongue typically scored 34 per cent below native speakers in reading tests. In ten low- and middle-income countries, children with disabilities were found to be 19 per cent less likely to achieve minimum proficiency in reading than those without disabilities.
Apart from the Report, UNESCO GEM team launched a new website, PEER, with information on laws and policies concerning inclusion in education for every country in the world. PEER shows that many countries still practice education segregation, which reinforces stereotyping, discrimination and alienation. Laws in a quarter of all countries require children with disabilities to be educated in separate settings, rising to over 40 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia.
The report mentioned that two countries in Africa still banned pregnant girls from school, 117 allowed child marriages, while 20 had yet to ratify the Convention 138 of the International Labour Organization which bans child labour. The authors said that Roma children were segregated in mainstream schools in several central and eastern European countries, In the case of Asian Countries, displaced people such as the Rohingya were taught in parallel education systems. In OECD countries, more than two-thirds of students from immigrant backgrounds attended schools where they made up at least 50 per cent of the student population.
Global Education Monitoring Report Director Manos Antoninis opined that Covid-19 gave the opportunity to think afresh about the education systems across the world. “But moving to a world that values and welcomes diversity won’t happen overnight. There is an obvious tension between teaching all children under the same roof and creating an environment where students learn best. But, COVID-19 has showed us that there is scope to do things differently, if we put our minds to it,” Antoninis said.
CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
The report also talked about Parents’ discriminatory beliefs. The report said that about 15 per cent of parents in Germany and 59 per cent in Hong Kong feared that children with disabilities disturbed others’ learning. It also said that 37 per cent of students in special schools moved away from mainstream establishments in Queensland, Australia. Education systems often fail to take special needs into account.
The authors pointed out that only 41 countries officially recognized sign language. It also stated that the schools were more eager to get internet access than to cater for learners with disabilities.
The UNESCO report showed that about 335 million girls attended schools that did not provide them with the water, sanitation and hygiene services they required to continue attending class during menstruation.
Girls and women only make up 44 per cent of references in secondary school English language textbooks in Malaysia and Indonesia. Meanwhile it is just 37 per cent in Bangladesh and 24 per cent in the province of Punjab in Pakistan. The curricula of 23 out of 49 European countries do not address issues of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. A quarter of teachers across 48 countries reported they wanted more training on teaching students with special needs.
- Widen the understanding of inclusive education: It should include all learners, regardless of identity, background or ability.
- Target financing to those left behind: There is no inclusion while millions lack access to education
- Share expertise and resources: This is the only way to sustain a transition to inclusion
- Engage in meaningful consultation with communities and parents: Inclusion cannot be enforced from above.
- Ensure cooperation across government departments, sectors and tiers: Inclusion in education is but a subset of social inclusion
- Make space for non-government actors to challenge and fill gaps: They must also make sure they work towards the same inclusion goal.
- Apply universal design: Ensure inclusive systems fulfil every learner’s potential.
- Prepare, empower and motivate the education workforce: All teachers should be prepared to teach all students
- Collect data on and for inclusion with attention and respect: Avoid labelling that stigmatises
- Learn from peers: A shift to inclusion is not easy.