What is inclusive education?

This page will help you if:

This page will not tell you everything you need to know, so please use this as a starting point for further reading.

Defining inclusive education

There is no universally agreed understanding of inclusive education, as you will discover if you read any selection of documents from the resource collection.

EENET's definition of inclusive education was developed during a participatory seminar with education practitioners from around the world, held in Agra, India in 1998. This definition has since been used and adapted by a number of organisations and governments. You will, nevertheless, find various other definitions being used. No single definition is totally right or wrong. In fact it can sometimes be helpful to combine elements of the different definitions to best suit your own situation or country.

The brief explanation given in the table below shows how EENET interprets the concept, based on our knowledge of the inclusive education work and debates that are happening around the world.

Inclusive education is ...

Inclusive education is not ...

...a constantly evolving process of change and improvement within schools and the wider education system to make education more welcoming, learner-friendly, and beneficial for a wide range of people

...a one-off project that can be delivered and completed within a short timeframe

...about restructuring education cultures, policies and practices so that they can respond to a diverse range of learners - male and female; disabled and non-disabled; from different ethnic, language, religious or financial backgrounds; of different ages; and facing different health, migration, refugee or other vulnerability challenges

...focused just on developing education for disabled learners within mainstream settings

...about changing the education system so that it is flexible enough to accommodate any learner

...about trying to change the learner so that he/she can fit more conveniently into an unchanged education system

...an ongoing effort to identify and remove barriers that exclude learners within each unique situation

...based on following a set formula of actions that can be used in any situation

...about identifying and removing barriers to learners' presence in (access to) education, participation in the learning process, and academic and social achievement

...focused just on helping learners to gain access to schools or classrooms

...focused on solving attitude, practice, policy, environmental and resource barriers

...just about overcoming financial and environmental challenges

...a process in which all stakeholders should participate (teachers, learners, parents, community members, government policy-makers, local leaders, NGOs, etc)

...a project that can be implemented solely by external experts or education officials

...something that can happen outside the formal education system, as well as in formal school environments (inclusive education can happen in learning spaces that are non-formal, alternative, community-based, etc; with learners from young children through to elderly adults)

...just a process that happens in formal schools

If you would like us to add any other points to this table, please contact us with your suggestions.

Suggested reading

The following documents offer the reader an overview of inclusive education. They also:

If, after reading the following documents, you are still not sure about what else to read or what to search for in the resources database, contact EENET. Tell us what issues in relation to inclusive education you want to learn more about, and we'll try to suggest other useful reading materials.


Inclusive Quality Education - To End Exclusion (2009) PDF 871kb

Schools for All: Including disabled children and young people in education (poster) (2002) 110kb


Education in Emergencies: Including Everyone. INEE pocket guide to inclusive education (2009) PDF 397kb

Embracing Diversity: Toolkit for creating inclusive, learning-friendly environments (2002) (external link)

Family Action for Inclusion in Education (2002) PDF 1.2mb

Inclusive Education: Where there are few resources (2008) PDF 1mb

Index for Inclusion: Developing learning and participation in schools (2002) PDF 328kb. Available in many languages

Making Schools Inclusive: How change can happen. Save the Children's experience (2008) PDF 4mb

Schools for All: Including disabled children in education (2002) PDF 432kb

Photos and film

Young Voices: Young people's views of inclusive education (2008) PDF 905kb

Young Voices short film
Part 1
Part 2

You will also find a wide range of practical examples of inclusive education in EENET's newsletters.

EENET's website contains over 400 documents and resources about inclusive, learner-friendly education. You can browse the entire collection by clicking the newsletters and resources menu option.