Inclusion Now 54

Sustainable Development Goals

How are the UN goals shaping inclusive education?

According to UNESCO globally half the 57 million primary children not in school are disabled. At least a third of the 243 million children who have not completed primary school are disabled, and education for most children in school is poor.

In July 2019 a High Level Political Forum was held on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It examined progress in “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. It reviewed six SDGs, including Goal 4 on inclusive education and lifelong learning for all. 47 countries presented voluntary national reviews, 2,000 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) attended, including Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) along with 100 countries and other international agencies. Three key messages that came out were:

  1. The international community is not on track to achieve the SDGs. A more ambitious and transformative response is urgently needed;
  2. The 2030 Agenda and the Goals remain the best roadmap to ending poverty and achieving sustainable development. The international community must swiftly move out of its comfort zone to pursue new ways of collective action;
  3. Inclusive and equitable quality education for all is critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Platforms for cooperation, new partnerships, more support for teachers and increased investment in universal quality education and lifelong learning are imperative.

The main issues identified around implementing inclusive and equitable quality education were:

  1. Increasing access to quality education for all is essential to address challenges like climate change, empower people with new skills and opportunities for employment and economic growth, and uphold peaceful, effective societies;
  2. Shortcomings in equality and inclusiveness are among the biggest barriers to achieving Goal 4, in particular for girls and for children in areas of conflict. Countries climbing the development ladder cannot afford to leave one child behind and must identify and break down barriers;
  3. Goal 4 requires a revolutionary reimagining of education in the modern world. There must be platforms for cooperation, new partnerships, greater support for teachers and investment in universal education and lifelong learning.
  4. Education is central to achieving the 2030 Agenda and preparing for the future. Accelerated action in higher education and lifelong learning can enable people to engage in highly skilled jobs and improve their livelihoods, apply new knowledge and innovative thinking to challenges and attain stability and peace.
  5. A realignment of education systems is required to meet the learning needs of individuals, reflect the modern world while ensuring that traditional knowledge is passed down through generations, tap into learning technologies and digital infrastructures, change mindsets around the value of education and ensure no one is left behind. Learning must focus on building proficiency in reading and maths, and the Goals should be incorporated into education.
  6. Educational barriers to girls, youth in rural areas, persons with disabilities, refugees and migrants, and children in areas of conflict must be urgently addressed. Infrastructure is required in rural areas and lower income countries to ensure children can go to schools with electricity, sanitation and clean water, and to break down digital barriers.
  7. Current investment in education and in supporting teachers falls far short of what is needed to achieve Goal 4.

Following the Global Summit on Disability (see Inclusion Now 51) a programme is under way, coordinated by Sightsavers ,to address key disability development issues, including inclusive education, in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Nepal and Jordan. £30m of Department for International Development (DFID) money has been earmarked. Following consultation conferences in each country, at which more than half the attendees were disabled people and their organisations, priorities were developed and then NGOs must develop projects. Once approved by a very bureaucratic system the projects are carried out. Eleven international disability NGOs are the partners.

There are problems with this approach. We as DPOs already know what will work in developing inclusive education from our experience as disabled people and many micro projects over the last 30 years in developing countries. The barriers are clear. No DPO can bid for a project, as there are too many complex accountability measures built in. The projects are being implemented by non-disabled professionals. The argument is that DPOs do not have the capacity to run these projects. But surely the solution is to develop their capacity as part of the project. Otherwise there will be a danger of a continuing NGO charity model. The complexity is there because of hostile press reaction to development funding which can be threatened by corruption. The best remedy to this is to get funding down to community level and give them collective oversight of their resources.

It is vital DPOs engage with this agenda and a good start was made when representatives from 60 attended a seminar in London in June hosted by Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, of which ALLFIE is a member, and DFID. Now we need to find ways to link DPOs in the North and South and develop joint capacity. The relaunch in New York last June of the Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum will be useful to this. This was a well-attended event, supported indirectly by DFID through the Disability Rights Fund. Representatives from 25 Commonwealth countries elected an executive committee, adopted a revised constitution and developed a work programme. (

The World Bank has identified up to $1billion to develop inclusive education over the next three years. We need to find ways of using this resource to develop inclusive education so that it is more than just developing reading and maths, important as these are. Most important is that disabled children have high self-esteem. The need is urgent for us all to raise our game. The developing climate crisis, growing inequality and growth of bigotry and prejudice threaten to engulf us all. Now is the time for more international collaboration to solve our planet’s problems including the full involvement and inclusion of disabled people and effective inclusive education around the world. We have a mountain to climb, but humanity’s survival depends on us!

Richard Rieser

General Secretary Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum and World of Inclusion