Fewer than 10% of countries have
laws that help ensure full inclusion in education, according to UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring
Report: Inclusion and education – All means all.
The report provides an in-depth analysis of key factors for exclusion of
learners in education systems worldwide including background, identity and
ability (i.e. gender, age, location, poverty, disability, ethnicity, indigeneity,
language, religion, migration or displacement status, sexual orientation or
gender identity expression, incarceration, beliefs and attitudes). It
identifies an exacerbation of exclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic and
estimates that about 40% of low and lower-middle income countries have not
supported disadvantaged learners during temporary school shutdown.
The 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report urges countries to focus on
those left behind as schools reopen so as to foster more resilient and equal
“To rise to the challenges of our time, a move towards more inclusive education
is imperative”, said the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay.
“Rethinking the future of education is all the more important following the
Covid-19 pandemic, which further widened and put a spotlight on inequalities.
Failure to act will hinder the progress of societies.”
of exclusion: This year’s Report is the fourth
annual UNESCO GEM Report to monitor progress across 209 countries in achieving
the education targets adopted by UN Member States in the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development. It notes that 258 million children and youth were
entirely excluded from education, with poverty as the main obstacle to access.
In low- and middle-income countries, adolescents from the richest 20% of all
households were three times as likely to complete lower secondary school as
were as those from the poorest homes. Among those who did complete lower
secondary education, students from the richest households were twice as likely
to have basic reading and mathematics skills as those from the poorest
households. Despite the proclaimed target of universal upper secondary
completion by 2030, hardly any poor rural young women complete secondary school
in at least 20 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Also according to the report, 10-year old students in middle and high-income
countries who were taught in a language other than their mother tongue
typically scored 34% below native speakers in reading tests. In ten low- and
middle-income countries, children with disabilities were found to be 19% less
likely to achieve minimum proficiency in reading than those without
disabilities. In the United States, for example, LGBTI students were almost three
times more likely to say that they had stayed home from school because of
foundations: Alongside today’s publication,
UNESCO GEM Report team launched a new website, PEER, with information on laws and
policies concerning inclusion in education for every country in the world. PEER
shows that many countries still practice education segregation, which reinforces
stereotyping, discrimination and alienation. Laws in a quarter of all countries
require children with disabilities to be educated in separate settings, rising
to over 40% in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Asia.
exclusion: Two countries in Africa still ban
pregnant girls from school, 117 allowed child marriages, while 20 had yet to
ratify the Convention
138 of the International Labour
Organization which bans child labour. In several central and eastern European
countries, Roma children were segregated in mainstream schools. In Asia,
displaced people, such as the Rohingya were taught in parallel education
systems. In OECD countries, more than two-thirds of students from immigrant
backgrounds attended schools where they made up at least 50% of the student
population, which reduced their chance of academic success.
“Covid-19 has given us a real opportunity to think afresh about our education
systems,” said Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring
Report. “But moving to a world that values and welcomes diversity won’t happen
overnight. There is an obvious tension between teaching all children under the
same roof and creating an environment where students learn best. But, COVID-19
has showed us that there is scope to do things differently, if we put our minds
Parents’ discriminatory beliefs were found to form one barrier to inclusion:
Some 15% of parents in Germany and 59% in Hong Kong, China, feared that
children with disabilities disturbed others’ learning. Parents with vulnerable
children also wished to send them to schools that ensure their well-being and
respond to their needs. In Queensland, Australia, 37% of students in special
schools had moved away from mainstream establishments.
The Report shows that education systems often fail to take learners’ special
needs into account. Just 41 countries worldwide officially recognized sign
language and, globally, schools were more eager to get internet access than to
cater for learners with disabilities. Some 335 million girls attended schools
that did not provide them with the water, sanitation and hygiene services they
required to continue attending class during menstruation.
learners: When learners are inadequately
represented in curricula and textbooks they can feel alienated. Girls and women
only made up 44% of references in secondary school English-language textbooks
in Malaysia and Indonesia, 37% in Bangladesh and 24% in the province of Punjab
in Pakistan. The curricula of 23 out of 49 European countries do not address
issues of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Teachers need and want training on inclusion, which fewer than 1 in 10 primary
school teachers in ten Francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa said they
had received. A quarter of teachers across 48 countries reported they wanted
more training on teaching students with special needs.
lack of quality data on those left behind.
Almost half of low- and middle-income countries do not collect enough education
data about children with disabilities. Household surveys are key for breaking
education data down by individual characteristics. But 41% of countries – home
to 13% of the world’s population – did not conduct surveys or make available
data from such surveys. Figures on learning are mostly taken from school,
failing to take into account those not attending.
“Inadequate data means we are missing a huge part of the picture,” says
Antoninis. “It is no wonder the inequalities suddenly exposed during COVID-19 took
us by surprise.”
progress towards inclusion: The
Report and its PEER website note that many countries
were using positive, innovative approaches to transition towards inclusion.
Many were setting up resource centres for multiple schools and enabling
mainstream establishments to accommodate children from special schools, as was
the case in Malawi, Cuba and Ukraine. The Gambia, New Zealand and Samoa were
using itinerant teachers to reach underserved populations.
Many countries were also seen to go out of their way to accommodate different
learners’ needs: Odisha state in India, for example, used 21 tribal languages in
its classrooms, Kenya adjusted its curriculum to the nomadic calendar and, in
Australia, the curricula of 19% of students were adjusted by teachers so that
their expected outcomes could match students’ needs.