For nearly 20 years, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) has promoted the right to education for all. However, the global discussion on inclusive education has changed significantly over time.

The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) and other international human rights treaties prohibit any “exclusion from, or limitation to, educational opportunities on the basis of socially-ascribed or perceived differences, such as by sex, ethnic/social origin, language, religion, nationality, economic condition, ability”. For decades the concept of inclusive education was mostly understood as focusing narrowly on children with disabilities only.

The 1994 Salamanca Statement, which was signed by 92 countries, and of which we celebrate the 25th anniversary this year, expanded the concept from focusing only on children with special needs to children from all backgrounds: ‘All children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have. Inclusive schools must recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students”.


Education for All

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development further built on these principles and the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on Education and the Education 2030 Framework for Action emphasize Education for All as a way to conceptualize inclusive education, and make a pledge to “leave no one behind”. 

Education for All takes into account “the needs of the poor and the most disadvantaged, including working children, remote rural dwellers and nomads, ethnic and linguistic minorities, children, young people and adults affected by conflict, HIV/AIDS, hunger and poor health; and those with special learning needs”. And SDG 4.5 specifically reaffirms the need to “ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations”.


“Inclusion is politically directed to level asymmetries and transform discriminations”

Most recently, in its definition of the concept, the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report on inclusion takes into account, “a range of elements that form educational experiences and outcomes” and examines “the role of elements of education systems that can support inclusion, including laws and policies, governance and finance, school curricula, personnel, infrastructure, and community norms, beliefs and expectations.”

GCE’s Head of Advocacy and Policy, and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Vernor Muñoz who is participating in the forum, explains: “Inclusive Education responds to a state model. It is not neutral. It is politically directed to level asymmetries and transform discriminations.”

As the global dialogue is focused on “leaving no one behind” innovative multi-sectoral approaches are explored to ensure inclusion and equity in education. However  we still have a long way to go: 262 million children and youth are still not in school and poverty, gender inequality, ethnicity, remoteness, language barriers, disabilities, and natural disasters as well as conflicts and humanitarian crisis and displacement are still obstacles to inclusive education.


Civil Society’s High Expectations for the Forum

In this context, all eyes are turned towards Cali, in Colombia, where UNESCO is convening the International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Education with the stated aim to “build a common understanding and a renewed commitment towards reinforcing inclusion in education among education policy makers, education practitioners, civil society organisations, NGOs, UN agencies, development partners and private sector”.  

Civil society’s expectations are high explains Vernor Munoz: “The Forum is a mechanism to remind States of their obligation to ALL people. We hope that in a context of serious regressions, inclusion will be assumed as the main commitment to strengthen free public education, accessible to people who have historically been discriminated against. Human Rights are the highways where education advances. Inclusion is the vehicle.

Credit photo: UNESCO/ GCE/ CLADE

Author: Julia Sestier

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The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is a civil society movement that aims to end exclusion in education. Education is a basic human right, and our mission is to make sure that governments act now to deliver the right of everyone to a free, quality, public education.