Equal Right, Equal Opportunity – Inclusive Education for All

UN -A disabled talented young artist at the Kome School in Tokyo.

Thanks to efforts in countries across the world, between 1999 and 2011, the number of children out of school fell almost by half, from 107 million to 57 million. The global adult literacy rate rose from 76% in 1990 to 84% in 2011.

These figures are a victory for the dignity of millions of individuals, but global progress is stagnating in achieving Education for All . UNESCO will mobilize international action to ensure the human right to education during Global Action Week, an annual advocacy event taking place from 4 to 10 May. 

This year’s theme - “Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Education and Disability” – highlights the urgency of making education not just accessible, but also inclusive for all. An estimated 1/7 of the world population lives with a disability. 93 million of these people are children – or 1 in 20 of those aged up to 14 years of age – living with a moderate or severe disability. Children with disabilities combat blatant educational exclusion, accounting for 1/3 of all out-of-school children. According to the Global Campaign for Education , “The rights of millions of children with disabilities are not being met, and it is vital that states take action to ensure that every child realizes their equal right to participate in quality education, giving them an equal opportunity to participate in the their communities, the workforce and more broadly in society.” Stronger efforts must be made everywhere to uphold the right to education for persons with disabilities, in keeping with Article 24 of the UN Convention of the Rights for Persons with Disabilities 

All children should learn together, regardless of differences. Schools and learning settings should not only be academically effective but also friendly, safe, clean and healthy, and gender sensitive. UNESCO works with its 195 Member States to help remove the barriers that prevent pupils from participating in an inclusive education system. We support countries to incorporate non-discrimination and quality of educational opportunities into their national systems. For Florence Migeon, a UNESCO specialist in education, it is about “ensuring that educational policies and practices reflect rights-based approaches and recognize the uniqueness of every learner; and encouraging individual and community-level engagement with people who face discrimination to claim their rights through inclusion in community-based development.”

An example of UNESCO’s work is a current project aiming to promote inclusive education in the Arab States. Together with the Gulf Arab States Educational Research Center (GASERC) and the International Bureau of Education, UNESCO has developed a resource pack that promotes awareness of inclusive education among specialists and practitioners; enhances curriculum design; diversifies teaching and learning resources to meet different student needs; and develops school-level assessment goals.

To encourage the sharing and exchange of transformative ideas, UNESCO has launched a knowledge community on education for persons with disabilities.

While many initiatives aimed at promoting inclusion have been implemented globally, much remains to be done.  The barriers faced in combating segregated education include: weak political will; inadequate attention to the learning needs of the excluded; weak data collection, which limits understanding of the magnitude of the causes and effects of exclusion; insufficient financial resources and the inefficient use of those available; and poor training of teacher and other education staff.

“The world can better work together to fight educational inequality,” urges Florence. “The greatest barriers to inclusion are caused by society, not by particular medical impairments. Negative attitudes towards differences result in discrimination and can lead to a serious handicap to learning. Each of us must change the way we see people who are different, building inclusive societies is our shared responsibility.”


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