Although the international community has set itself the goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030, more than a quarter of a billion children and young people have no access to education. Millions of others are marginalised within the education system because of their background, identity or a disability and they have been especially hard hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the conclusion reached in the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report “Inclusion and education: all means all”, which is being presented today. The report calls for targeted support for these young people.
Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State for International Cultural Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, stresses that
Democracy is founded on the promise of equal opportunities. Inclusion means that everyone belongs. It does not leave anyone behind. Rather, it includes everyone – regardless of their skin colour, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities. The aim is to enable everyone to realise their full potential. Unfortunately, however, we are still a long way from achieving that, not only in the sphere of education. The pandemic is showing us that we now also have to step up our efforts for equal opportunities in the field of foreign policy.
Around the world, poverty is still the main obstacle to success in education. In all countries except for the high-income countries of Europe and North America, for every 100 young people from the most prosperous households who complete secondary education only 18 from the poorest households do so. But other factors also limit access to education. For example, young LGBTIs in the United States stated almost three times more often than their peers that they had stayed away from school because they did not feel safe there.
Thomas Rachel, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research emphasises that
Everyone has a right to a good education, regardless of their gender, background, social status, religious or sexual orientation or a disability. With this goal in mind, we at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research are working to ensure strong, inclusive education in Germany. With initiatives such as the Coordinating Office for Vocational Training and Migration (KAUSA) and Culture is Strength, we are actively seeking to attain this goal. The aim of the Coordinating Office for Vocational Training and Migration is to encourage small businesses with a migration background to take part in the dual system of vocational education and to increase the number of migrants and refugees in vocational education. Through the programme Culture is Strength. Education Alliances, we are promoting extracurricular measures for the cultural education of disadvantaged children and young people. Our aim is to make education inclusive at all levels. We in Germany and the rest of the world must do more to gradually move closer to this goal.
Obstacles with force of law
In a quarter of all countries around the world, separate education for children with and without disabilities is required by law. In Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, there is legislation to that effect in more than 40% of countries. Minorities and refugees, too, are still not adequately guaranteed access to high-quality education in many countries around the world. In several Central and East European countries, children from the Roma minority are learning separately from the majority society. In the OECD states, more than two thirds of all children and young people of migrant origin attend schools in which at least half of the pupils have a migration background.
Maria Flachsbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasises that
In a crisis context such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, existing inequalities are reinforced around the world. Everyone needs equal access to high-quality education. That is why we did not hesitate to include this aspect in the BMZ Emergency COVID-19 Support Programme. We have thus made available at least 25 million euro for the Global Partnership for Education, with the aim of combatting the disastrous impact of this pandemic on global education.
Inclusion needs well-trained personnel
Many education systems are based on the assumption that everyone has the same learning needs. Among other things, this is highlighted by the fact that to this date only 41 countries, including Germany, have officially recognised a form of sign language. However, not only states but also society places limits on inclusion. For instance, it is stated in the Global Education Monitoring Report that 59% of all parents in Hong Kong and 15% in Germany fear that children with disabilities would disrupt the learning of other pupils.
Teachers have a crucial role to play when it comes to ensuring participation in the education sector. They are the key to more inclusion in everyday school life. However, they need the necessary tools. For example, a quarter of all teachers in 48 countries examined said that they would like to have more training on teaching pupils with special needs.
Walter Hirche, member of the board of the German Commission for UNESCO states that
We have already achieved much in Germany in the last few years. However, the majority of children and young people with special educational needs still learn separately and do not attend lessons in standard schools. We have to change that. Inclusion is an ongoing learning process for children, parents as well as for our teachers. We have to assist them during their teacher-training and provide them with tailored further training on catering to the needs of all pupils in equal measure.
Global steps towards inclusion
Even if the international community still has a long way to go, there are many examples which show how inclusion can succeed. Before the publication of the Global Education Monitoring Report, this year UNESCO presented pioneers in inclusive education, including Sabine Kreutzer, head teacher of the Marie Kahle comprehensive school in Bonn. The school, established in 2009, uses the Dalton method which enables pupils to learn independently at their own pace. The Bonn school received the Jakob Muth Award for inclusive schools only last year.
In many other countries too, UNESCO has found innovative approaches aimed at increasing participation in the field of education. For example, in Cuba, Malawi and Ukraine, there are centres of excellence which assist standard schools in teaching children with special needs. In the Gambia, New Zealand and Samoa, mobile teachers are deployed to reach disadvantaged groups. The Indian state of Odisha uses 21 tribal languages in its classrooms, while Kenya has adapted its curriculum to the calendar of the nomads living in the country.
With the adoption of the global sustainability agenda, the international community has committed to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all. UNESCO coordinates measures to reach that goal, evaluates the progress made and publishes the Global Education Monitoring Report annually.