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Time to rethink disability in education

Two new reports by Education International shed light on students and teachers with disabilities, their struggle to be part of our education systems, and how to make inclusion happen.

More than half of the world’s children with disabilities never receive any formal education — this applies more to girls with disabilities than to boys with disabilities. Two new reports by Education International (EI) published today reveal a series of striking facts on exclusion and education and suggests paths and strategies to overcome the hurdles that are keeping many children and teachers with disabilities on the margins of education. 

People with disabilities remain among the most marginalized across societies. Children from low-socio economic backgrounds and girls with disabilities are most often denied their right to inclusive education, as stipulated in the relevant UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 28) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 24).  

The first report – Are we There Yet? Education Unions Assess the Bumpy Road to Inclusive Education is based on a global survey of EI member organisations in 2017 and 2018. The survey asked for feedback on school and classroom accessibility, barriers to education, inclusive classroom practices, teachers’ professional development and training, government and union support and policy on children and youth with disabilities at all levels of education.  




The ways in which a shift in inclusive practices can take place is further outlined in the second report – Rethinking disability: a primer for educators and education unions, by Tania Principe. The study posits that, while the academic and rights-based discourse on disability has shifted significantly in some countries, the implementation of inclusive education has been slow. As a result, many students with disabilities end up on the margins of education, and subsequently on the margins of economic life. This is due, in part, to informal norms, values, and prejudices that continue to prevent meaningful change. In addition, a critical lack of financial resources to support implementation, at both the institutional and individual level, can block even the most willing educator from advancing an inclusion agenda. These are the hidden obstacles that keep youth with disabilities from full participation in public education.  



For example, schools in the United States of America, Canada, and the United Kingdom are obliged to include students with special needs in their classrooms. Yet, all too often, teachers do not see themselves as having the skills or understanding of disability or, critically, the support they need to teach everyone in the classroom. 


The reports were launched during a side event at UNESCO’s Global Education Meeting in Brussels, Belgium today, and was moderated by EI Research Officer Nikola Wachter. Interventions from Peter Mlimahadala, Head of Department of Teachers with Disabilities, Tanzania Teachers’ Union (himself a visually impaired teacher), Nafisa Baboo, Senior Inclusive Advisor, Light for the World, and Dennis Sinyolo, Senior Coordinator, Education International, highlighted the increasing demand for inclusion in classrooms all over the world, which often is not sufficiently reflected in governments’ education policy and available funding. 


EI General Secretary David Edwards said he hoped the results of the survey would be an eye-opener for policy makers and stakeholders. “The survey results are a wake-up call for governments to take action and show that a thorough rethinking of past policymaking and current implementation is urgently needed,” he said. “With this report, we want to share a new thinking on disability and point out effective teaching approaches and practices that are creating more inclusive classrooms. Nobody should be left out of school – the human right to education applies to all.”  


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