Twenty-five years after the Salamanca Declaration, various actors in the education sector, including policy-makers, education practitioners, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, development partners and the private sector, met in Cali, COLOMBIA, from 11 to 13 September 2019 to review progress on inclusion and equity in education. The flagship objective of the Cali Forum, organized by UNESCO, was to reflect together on the impact of the Salamanca Declaration and to discuss the next steps to move education forward towards greater equity and inclusion and to establish a common understanding of the concepts for a renewed commitment of all stakeholders.
A general overview revealed that there are different interpretations and definitions of inclusive education and inclusion in national frameworks. In most cases, the emphasis is on the recognition of specific groups while others address inclusive education in a broader sense. This diversity of definitions has varying effects on the direction of policies and legal frameworks from one country to another. It is therefore essential to have a more comprehensive common understanding of inclusion in order to effectively ensure that no learner is left behind because in inclusive education, “no one is excluded”.
Education for people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa needs to move forward!
The challenges of ensuring that no one is excluded in education systems and therefore the issue of education for people with disabilities, were the subject of several exchanges during the plenary debates and in breakout sessions during the forum. Mr. Oumarou Mahamadou MANOU, representing the Chairman of the West African Federation of Persons with Disabilities (FOAPH), addressed a panel in plenary session on behalf of the FOAPH-ANCEFA-HI consortium to highlight the importance of developing and implementing inclusive education policies and sector plans, which are indeed the basic documents and policy frameworks to ensure inclusion and equity in education systems.
He also noted the urgent need to make schools more accessible, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where facilities are still poor, especially in rural areas and on the periphery of urban areas. Recognizing that the education of people with disabilities remains a topical issue insofar as, to date, some children are still deprived of a quality education despite it being a RIGHT, civil society is mobilizing to ensure that inclusive education is actually translated into reality and that no child is left behind.
Partners talk about the role of civil society
Partners interviewed during the forum by Ms Doriane TCHAMANBE (ANCEFA), on the participation of civil society in advancing education and equity, gave their opinions.
Ms Rasmata Ouedraogo (Ministry of Education, Burkina Faso)
“The assessment of Salamanca 25 years later indicates that there has been progress in inclusive education in some countries around the world, but that tremendous efforts are needed because the assessment is not satisfactory. The reality is that civil society, including national education for all coalitions, has played an important role in the gains realized. Civil society must continue to work towards inclusion in education. This should be done in order to support governments in line with the priorities defined in guidance frameworks. Inclusion and equity in education are the guarantee of quality education for all.”
Ms. Julia McGeown (Humanity & Inclusion)
“ CSOs are a crucial piece of the puzzle ! A common theme in this conference has been the huge gap between policies and practice . We have heard that many countries have made huge strides in developing inclusive education policies and yet in reality the vast majority of children with disabilities remain out of school , at least 32 million school age children with disabilities globally. Without education coalitions and disabled persons organisations pushing for inclusion in their respective countries often policies simply remain on the shelf and ministries of education are not held to account to put the policy into practice. When different organisations work together their voice becomes united and they have a much stronger force for change”.
Martha R.L MUHWEZI (FAWE)
The CSO need to review their individual efforts over the years and come up with a report that highlights achievements, what has worked, what has not worked, challenges and what needs to be done differently. This way, they will have a common position on how to support governments to ensure inclusion and equity in Education. CSOs need to hold governments accountable and ensure all policies are implemented. There is a tendency of having good policies but no implementation.
Civil society has a role to play
Community awareness and advocacy with institutional actors have led to improvements at the micro level. The aim today is to amplify efforts and raise the level of action by increasing the participation of civil society in political forums where educational system planning is discussed. Although efforts have been made to promote quality inclusive education for all, reality does not show any significant transformation of education systems or policies. How can legislation, policies, programs and practices be improved? What steps are governments taking to translate principles into action and create inclusive learning environments? What recommendations could promote inclusion in education systems? This Forum provided an opportunity for dialogue and exchange to highlight the issue of inclusion and equity in education as part of the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030, including the achievement of SDG4.
In short, governments and stakeholders have recognized the importance of expanding the concept of inclusive education to reach all learners, based on the principle that all are entitled to relevant, equitable and effective educational opportunities. Civil society through national education coalitions and federations of associations of people with disabilities must strengthen monitoring and surveillance to ensure that no child is left behind because education is a “Right”, no one should be deprived of it.
By Doriane TCHAMANBE, Chargée de programme Education- ANCEFA, and Mame Codou Dieng CISSÉ, Chargée de la Communication – ANCEFA