Prioritising inclusive education post Covid-19

Elaine Green


Elaine Green, Head of Influencing, Campaigns and Public Affairs, shares our recommendations for moving towards a world where everyone can access quality education.

Nurdin with his friends, Zebedayo (left) and Salma (right) during breaktime.

2021 has been a significant – but disruptive – year for education. A renewed focus on girls’ education has been welcomed, particularly in the wake of a pandemic that has significantly impacted students around the globe. And this focus has never been more important as we get ready for the Global Education Summit this week. This year, the UK is co-hosting the Summit with Kenya. So it offers an excellent opportunity for the UK to showcase our work in inclusive education. And shape the future of learning too.

Why the Global Education Summit is important

The Summit itself represents a critical moment. Members of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) will be meeting to discuss funding priorities for the GPE in 2021-2025. The GPE is the largest global fund dedicated to transforming education in lower-income countries. And it’s so essential that access to good quality education for children with disabilities is central to funding commitments.

So that’s why it was great to get together with other disability inclusion experts last week. We met with Sightsavers, the GPE, the World Bank’s Inclusive Education Initiative (IEI) and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) at a special webinar as part of the Summit.

The event highlighted how important it is that disability-inclusive education programmes are prioritised in the years ahead. And together, we put forward some key recommendations for the GPE to consider. It was great to hear stories from each other’s programmes and share learning about what’s working well. But the discussions also highlighted the hard work we have ahead of us.

The impact of the pandemic

For one, it highlighted how Covid-19 has widened gender inequalities. We know already girls with disabilities have less opportunity to access quality education than their male peers. And this has a knock-on effect.

It affects the future prospects of girls. And prevents them from fully participating in society. In turn, this can result in many falling into poverty from a lack of work opportunities. And a lack of access to school means girls are also unable to access essential education on sexual health and reproductive rights.

Our Education for Life programme

For Alice in Kenya, access to an education programme was essential during the pandemic. Through the Education for Life programme, she was able to access support with literacy and numeracy and health support.

Through life skills and mentorship sessions, Alice could access essential information around sexual and reproductive health. Including guidance on using sanitary towels. During the pandemic, the programme also provided the girls with dignity kits to support them during such an uncertain time. This included items like sanitary towels, soap and underwear. Hopefully, this will have eased some of the stresses for girls who would not be able to access these items.

Alice’s story is just one of many. There are 33 million children with disabilities who are not in school, and the majority are girls. And we can already see the long-term impact of the exclusion of girls with disabilities. 1% of women with disabilities across the world are literate. And sadly, girls with disabilities are the most likely people to be victims of violence, including sexual violence.

So, this is why we need to act now and redouble efforts to get girls with disabilities into school. And inclusive education programmes are an essential part of this. But the funding needs to be there in order to really scale these programmes up. And we can’t wait any longer. So that’s why this year’s Global Education Summit is so crucial.

We need to prioritise inclusive education

As the GPE gets ready to make plans for building back after Covid-19, it would be a huge disappointment if these did not prioritise disability-inclusive and gender-responsive education. And these strategies need to be fully funded so they can have the most impact.

But to measure this impact, we also need to have the data. We need funding not just for the programmes, but for good quality data collection too. That way, we can better understand the challenges children with disabilities face when accessing education. And come up with new ways to counteract them!

Young people also need to be at the table when we have these conversations. Youth with disabilities can be powerful advocates for change. They understand the real barriers and challenges that exist at the grassroots. We want to see young people involved in the development of strategies and programmes. After all – it is their future we are talking about!.