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Editorial: Education for All: The Challenge

This special edition of EENET’s newsletter, Enabling Education, focuses on the pioneering efforts of educators, parents, community members, disabled people and policy makers in Asia, Africa and South America to make education a reality for those children who have been marginalised within Education for All (EFA) initiatives.

April sees the World Congress in Dakar to review progress over the last ten years towards the goal of Education for All (EFA). Despite lots of planning and discussion, the situation looks bleak.

The harsh reality is that some 125 million of primary age are still not in school, two thirds of whom are girls. Another 150 million children drop out, having not completed the first five years of primary education. Meanwhile, even in the economically wealthy countries many children find that their involvement in education is a largely disappointing experience.

The Enabling Education Network (EENET) is a small-scale information network committed to promoting the participation of marginalised groups in education worldwide. Its particular concern is with those children who are currently excluded from educational opportunities. The aim is to support those who are developing initiatives that will enable all children to experience the benefits of a relevant and enriching education. Our view is that isolation from information is what marginalises and further impoverishes excluded groups.

Through the pages of this special edition of Enabling Education then, we challenge readers to take seriously the issues of marginalisation in relation to the EFA agenda.

In making this challenge we wish to draw attention to the wide range of groups that are marginalised in different parts of the world. For example, we highlight children with economically poor backgrounds, particularly those from minority ethnic groups; those from Romany families; the children of nomads; and, of course, children with disabilities, who are excluded from many educational opportunities, even in the so-called developed world. A problem with the now fashionable term ‘inclusive education’, is that it is often seen as part of policies for special education. Too often this distracts attention from an examination of exclusionary pressures within society and its schools. We argue that EFA must seek to become inclusive by promoting enabling education for all groups in society.

With these concepts in mind, this issue features stories about community activities that can help strengthen government policies on EFA. The ABEK programme in the Karimajong area is successfully complementing the Ugandan government’s radical policy on universal primary education. In this context we hear from Uganda’s first deaf MP about attempts to provide education for all disabled children. Other stories from India, Bangladesh, and Mali demonstrate ways in which education can be made more flexible and relevant to the needs and lifestyles of those in rural communities. All the articles demonstrate the marginalising effects of poverty, while highlighting the creativity and innovation of so-called ‘poor’ communities.

Overcoming barriers to inclusion and EFA is a theme which unites all contributors to this special edition. Excellent EFA initiatives are taking place at the community level in very difficult circumstances and despite the apparent failure of so many international efforts to improve education. The challenge for EFA is to learn the lessons from these community-based initiatives and provide them with more support in the future.