The 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) Inclusion and Education: All Means All was launched today. The report comes at a crucial moment, with the global Covid-19 outbreak causing a major education crisis, particularly for the most vulnerable.
The GEM Report addresses a broad notion of inclusion, focusing on persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups, as well as intersecting vulnerabilities and discrimination based on gender, location, wealth, disability, ethnicity, language, migration, displacement, sexual orientation, incarceration, religion, and other beliefs and attitudes. It assesses progress made towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) and reminds governments of their obligation to “ensure an inclusive and equitable quality education” for all.
This year’s report shows that even before the pandemic, the right to education for all students was far from being achieved, with one out of five children, adolescents and youth excluded from education. It alerts decision makers that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated underlying inequalities and “that resistance to addressing every learner’s needs is a real threat to achieving global education targets.” According to the report, only about “40% of low- and lower-middle income countries have supported learners at risk of exclusion” and due to the pandemic, new risks for exclusion such as the “accessibility of distance learning opportunities” have emerged. This particularly affects girls living in poverty who are more likely to drop out and taken into various forms of child labour than their male peers, with little chance of returning to any educational future.
Inclusion is often not an integral part of policy making and implementation, as demonstrated by the fact that many of the national Covid-19 responses failed to support the most vulnerable. The GEM Report 2020 highlights that far too many countries have not translated international conventions on inclusion into national laws. At the same time, education budgets often do not meet international benchmarks and aid has stagnated for many years. Consequently, inclusive policies remain underfunded and unaddressed. In this context, Education International is particularly concerned about the emergence of private actors who aggressively pursue profit and pose a real threat to the right to education for the most vulnerable. As the Covid-19 crisis and the evidence in the report have shown, inclusive public systems and enabling services such as public housing, public healthcare, disability-related assistance, and infrastructure are critical for inclusion. They contribute to ensure the full participation of all in education and society without discrimination.
Education International welcomes the fact that throughout the report teachers and school leaders are highlighted as playing an important role in achieving inclusive education. One major challenge identified is that not all teachers are prepared, supported and empowered to teach all students. The GEM Report echoes the findings of the Education International survey on inclusive education, alerting policy makers that professional development and training is offered infrequently and perceived to be of poor quality and relevance. In addition, challenges posed by education systems, such as the promotion of standardised testing; inadequate facilities; outdated materials and curricula, as well as the lack of autonomy are mentioned as a hinderance for inclusive planning and teaching. However, the report fails to acknowledge the transformative role of teachers beyond the classroom: through continuous social and policy dialogue, teachers, education support personnel and their representative unions can play a crucial role in improving and strengthening education systems.
The report recognises the importance of a whole-school approach where multi-professional and diverse teams involving teachers and education support personnel work together to provide inclusive education. Education International welcomes the report’s recognition of the role education support personnel play in ensuring inclusive education, including the role of teaching assistants. As reflected in data collection efforts, education support personnel are often an invisible part of the education workforce and Education International urges governments to invest in their status and working conditions, and indeed those of all educators. In addition, it will also be essential to ensure that the education workforce is diverse, reflects the student body and has the education and training to cater for the needs of all students, including those with disabilities.
Another challenge identified in the report is the lack of quality data which is urgently needed to guide decision makers as well as teachers in the classroom. Data collection is a particularly sensitive topic for vulnerable groups. As outlined in the report, comprehensive data collection can make discrimination visible and help monitor equity and inclusion. However, it can also create stigma at the individual level or even put minorities at risk. The GEM Report 2020 addresses these tensions and provides some insightful examples of how data collection can be improved to support teachers and decision makers. This also includes moving away from the focus on learning outcomes and categorisation and instead collecting more data on experiences of learning as well a sense of belonging, which is identified as crucial for educational success.
In conclusion, the GEM Report 2020 should be a wake-up call for governments to reform their education systems to ensure the right to education for all. SDG 4 will only be achieved if education systems provide inclusive education for all at all times. The Covid-19 crisis should not delay our efforts to address the challenges the most vulnerable among us face, but accelerate inclusive education policy reforms and implementation. In order to succeed, the reform process itself must be inclusive and involve representatives of vulnerable groups, as well as teachers, education support personnel and their unions. Education International will continue to demand the fulfilment of the right to quality public education for all and every educator’s right to decent working conditions.