This article has been published in Enabling Education 8
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Title: An Inclusive Approach to EFA: UNESCO's Role
Author: UNESCO
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2004

An inclusive approach to EFA: UNESCO’s Role

Olaf Sandkull

Inclusion is seen as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education.

UNESCO believes that the issue of inclusion has to be seen as part of the wider international activities stimulated by the 1990 Jomtien Declaration on Education for All (EFA). In the early documentation on EFA, there was a rather token mention of ‘special needs’. This has been gradually replaced by a recognition that the inclusion agenda should be seen as an essential element of the whole EFA movement. Thus, instead of an emphasis on the idea of integration, (with its assumption that additional arrangements will be made to accommodate pupils seen as being special within a system of schooling that remains largely unchanged), we now see moves towards inclusive education, where the aim is to restructure schools in response to the needs of all pupils.

The Dakar Framework for Action and the subsequent Millennium Development Goals on Education, provide the most up-to-date frame of reference on making EFA a reality by 2015. However, the Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Needs Education and the Framework for Action continue to provide a valuable reference point for all those involved in lobbying for inclusive education. It also provides a framework for thinking about how to move policy and practice forward. Indeed, it is arguably the most significant international document that has ever appeared in special education.

The statement concludes that regular schools with an inclusive orientation are:

‘…the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all.’

Furthermore, it suggests, such schools can:

‘…provide an effective education for the majority of children and improve the efficiency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.’

Salamanca encourages us to look at educational difficulties in new ways. This new direction in thinking is based on the belief that changes in methodology and organisation – made in response to students experiencing difficulties – can, under certain conditions, benefit all children. In this way, students who are currently categorised as having special needs come to be seen as a stimulus for encouraging the development of richer learning environments.

The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education – Salamanca, Spain, 7-10 June 1994

“More than 300 participants, representing 92 governments and 25 international organizations, met in Salamanca to further the objective of Education for All by considering the fundamental policy shifts required to promote the approach of inclusive education, namely enabling schools to serve all children, particularly those with special educational needs.”

Preface to the Salamanca Statement

We call upon all governments and urge them to:

  • give the highest policy and budgetary priority to improve their education systems to enable them to include all children regardless of individual differences or difficulties
  • adopt as a matter of law or policy the principle of inclusive education, enrolling all children in regular schools, unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise
  • develop demonstration projects and encourage exchanges with countries having experience with inclusive schools
  • establish decentralized and participatory mechanisms for planning, monitoring and evaluating educational provision for children and adults with special education needs
  • encourage and facilitate the participation of parents, communities and organization of persons with disabilities in the planning and decision-making processes concerning provision for special educational needs
  • invest greater effort in early identification and intervention strategies, as well as in vocational aspects of inclusive education
  • ensure that, in the context of a systemic change, teacher education programmes, both pre-service and in-service, address the provision of special needs education in inclusive schools.

Article 3

National EFA Action Plans
UNESCO assists member countries in developing their National EFA Plans. It sets out to make sure that these plans really are inclusive, ie, that they cater for all learners. This means that the principle of inclusion must inform and permeate strategies at all levels of an education system. This is a major challenge and will require expertise that is not always available within countries.

UNESCO has identified four components of the technical assistance and support required:

  • formulation and review of the National EFA Action Plans
  • capacity building for implementation
  • monitoring and evaluation
  • mobilising partners.

Inclusion is a cross-cutting issue in UNESCO’s overall programme. If EFA is to be achieved, inclusion also has to be seen as the guiding principle of development work with governments. However, countries must themselves identify the types of technical support needed for the implementation of their EFA Plans.

Taking a lead
UNESCO continues to see inclusive education as a priority and will provide a lead in encouraging developments around the world. In this connection, the EFA Flagship ‘The Right to Education for Persons with Disabilities: Towards Inclusion’ was developed over the last three years to ensure that the goals of the Dakar Framework are realised for individuals with disabilities. Its main goal is to provide access to education and promote completion of quality education for every child, youth and adult with disabilities. This will be achieved by ensuring that National EFA Plans incorporate persons with disabilities, and by encouraging policy makers to identify and remove barriers within the education system.

The strategic objectives of the Flagship are to:

  • provide access to education and promote completion of quality education for every child, youth, and adult with disabilities
  • change attitudes towards different children by forming the basis for a just and non-discriminatory society which encourages people to live and learn together.

The Flagship works in partnership with other UN agencies, international and national disability organisations, and donors.

For more information on the Flagship contact:
Inclusive Education
7 place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris SP 07

University of Oslo
Faculty of Education
Department of Special Needs Education
P.O. Box 1140
0317 Oslo

Sharing ideas
UNESCO will also continue to encourage the sharing of experiences internationally and make available materials that can be used to support the development of inclusive policies and practices. Details of the materials currently available can be found later in this newsletter.

New directions
UNESCO is in a process of change. Regional offices are increasingly taking over responsibility for implementation and there is a move from a project to a programme oriented approach. This means that the field and regional offices of UNESCO will carry out the programme, leaving the headquarters in Paris to take on more of a co-ordinating and facilitating role. Less than 30 per cent of available funds are spent by Headquarters and more than 70 per cent by the regional offices.

With very limited funds, UNESCO needs to work in different ways to promote real change in education. In particular, change must be stimulated at the policy and system level if it is to be sustainable. By working in co-operation with governments and local, national and international disability organisations, UNESCO works towards the Salamanca vision of educational systems that are truly inclusive.