What you need to know about inclusion in education

Last update: June 9, 2022

Why does UNESCO consider inclusion in education important?  

Despite significant progress in the last decade, millions are still denied their right to education and learning opportunities continue to be unequally distributed. Globally, one in five children, adolescents and youth, are entirely excluded from education. Poverty, location, gender, language, disability, ethnicity, religion, migration or displacement status are among factors that continue to dictate and limit opportunities. Nearly 40% of children do not have access to education in a language they understand, and children with disabilities continue to be disproportionally excluded from school. Three quarters of all primary-age children - 9 million- who may never set foot in school are girls. Moreover, since 2000, an upsurge in migration and displacement has led to a 26% increase of migrant and refugee children globally, making their inclusion in national education systems an imperative. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 20 per cent of children and young people faced exclusion from education on a daily basis. The crisis has made some inequalities more visible, widened existing disparities and led to new inequalities and exclusion in education particularly for marginalized and disadvantaged groups. Some 40% of the poorest countries could not support learners at risk during the pandemic, further demonstrating the fragility of the right to education.  

How does inclusion relate to the right to education?  

The right to education aims to ensure everyone achieves their human right to access quality education throughout life. An inclusive approach to education means that each individual’s needs are taken into account and that all learners participate and achieve together. It acknowledges that all children can learn and that every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs. Special focus is placed on learners who may be at risk of marginalization, exclusion or underachievement. For example, where a child has a disability he or she would not be separated from other learners in school and learning assessments and progress would take the disability into account. 

How does UNESCO work to ensure inclusion in education?

UNESCO focuses on the inclusivity of the whole education system rather than trying to remove barriers one by one; the emphasis is on how to transform existing systems rather than on how some learners can be integrated into them. It promotes education systems that are based on gender equality, that respect diverse needs, abilities and characteristics and eliminate all forms of discrimination in the learning environment. UNESCO helps Member States develop and implement inclusive policies and programmes which reach excluded and marginalized groups and provide them with quality education and helps governments and partners translate policy into inclusive curricula, pedagogy and teaching and programme design and delivery. Among marginalized and vulnerable groups, UNESCO pays special attention to children with disabilities as they are overrepresented in the population of those who are not in education. Indigenous people also continue to experience exclusion within and from education. 

Why is language diversity important? 

Learners may be excluded if learning is conducted in something other than their mother tongue. In addition, multilingual education based on the mother tongue (s) in the early years of schooling plays a key role in fostering respect for diversity and a sense of interconnectedness between countries and populations. Yet linquistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. Globally 40 per cent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which also transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.  

What makes an inclusive learning environment? 

There are many aspects to be considered in creating an inclusive learning environment including the development of policy with an inclusive lens, adequate and disaggregated data about learners, curriculum, teacher ability and attitudes, language and communication, assistive technology, physical access including transport, and community and family involvement. Children with disabilities are over-represented in the population of those who are not in education. Globally, there are between 93 million and 150 million children living with a disability – 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries. Children and youth with sensory, physical, or learning disabilities are two-and-a-half times more likely than their peers to never go to school. Where disability intersects with other barriers, such as gender, poverty, or remoteness, the risk of exclusion is greater still.  

What is the Cali Commitment to equity and inclusion in education?  
At the International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Cali, Colombia in 2019 young people,  government officials, educators, civil society, and multilateral organizations representatives pledged themselves to the Cali Commitment, a reaffirmation of the international human rights agenda reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Education 2030 Framework for Action, which recognizes the urgent need to provide equitable and inclusive quality education for all learners, from the early years through compulsory schooling, technical and vocational education and training, higher education, and lifelong learning. It calls on governments to step up efforts to achieve inclusion in education with special emphasis on the role of civil society and the involvement of marginalized groups.