A recent study commissioned by Education International, Action Aid International and Light for the World stresses the importance of well-trained and qualified teachers and education support personnel as the bedrock of inclusion. Today, Education International calls for educational equity audits in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and releases a guide to support education unions’ efforts in this endeavour.
It is widely recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities worldwide, increasing the risk of exclusion for the most marginalised. Education is no exception. The closure of schools and educational institutions, which affected nearly 1.6 billion students, was particularly hard felt by students living with a disability, if they were even able to access education.
Distance education, and the lack of daily face-to-face interaction with teachers and education support personnel, came at a high cost for these students, since many education systems already failed to offer them quality inclusive education prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Students with disabilities are among the least likely to benefit from distance education or to return to schools and educational institutions when they re-open.
“ The bedrock of inclusion: why investing in the education workforce is critical to the delivery of SDG4” is a study commissioned by Education International, Action Aid International and Light for the World, which highlights six key lessons from Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania regarding the need to invest in teachers and education support personnel, in order to deliver quality inclusive education for all, especially children and youth living with disabilities. With a financial crisis on the horizon that risks shrinking education budgets even more, these lessons hold true now, more than ever.
1. Action is required to mainstream inclusive education commitments into plans, budgets and monitoring
The study shows that many inclusive education policies and strategies are inadequately costed and resourced, with budgets woefully small compared to need. Significantly, in the five countries studied, none of the costings accompanying inclusive education strategies – where those exist – took account of the need to train and pay more teachers including teachers with disabilities– a vital factor in ensuring a workforce equipped to support inclusion.
2. Lack of robust and accurate data prevents adequate planning and budgeting for inclusive education
This is even more important in the context of the pandemic, to understand its impact on children, youth and teachers living with a disability and how best to address it. Reliable data is imperative at every level of an education system, from robust sector analysis to planning, budgeting and monitoring. The study identified a severe lack of data both on children with disabilities and their engagement in school and on the education workforce and its preparedness for practicing inclusion.
3. Teachers do not receive sufficient training to practice inclusion
Considering the variety of experiences that students went through during the lockdown, both in terms of learning and socio-emotional needs, it is both crucial and extremely challenging for teachers and education support personnel to address students’ diverse needs while delivering distance education and on their return to school. It is essential that pre-service and in-service training opportunities are available to ensure high-quality education for everyone.
4. High pupil-teacher ratios prevent inclusive education in practice
In many contexts, existing teacher shortages have been an impediment to creating suitable conditions for a meaningful learning experience during lockdowns and a safe return to school. Sub-Saharan African countries face the greatest teacher shortages in the world and very high pupil-teacher ratios, which prevent managing diverse learning needs in the classroom and ensuring inclusive teaching. Scaling-up teacher numbers requires a commensurate scale-up of funding.
5. Inclusive education plans and strategies lack credible costings
Better costing models for inclusive education are needed, and these must be based on a clearer overview of actual needs founded on more credible, disaggregated data, taking into account the impact of the pandemic. Any costings must be translated into overall annual education sector budgets.
6. Despite progress, resources for education were already insufficient to achieve inclusive education
The pandemic should serve as wake-up call for governments, following decades of chronic underfunding of public services, including education, which have resulted in millions of children and youth with disabilities being denied their right to quality inclusive education. The transformation of education systems needed to deliver quality inclusive education for all will not be possible without:
- Allocating at least 20% of national education budgets and 6% of GDP to education;
- Increasing sustainable financing of the education sector through progressive domestic resource mobilisation strategies (i.e. reducing or eliminating harmful corporate tax incentives, tackling tax avoidance, evasion, corruption and illicit financial flows).
- Putting greater focus on equity in resources - both human and financial – and, in particular, allocating resources in order to address severe gaps in financing for teacher recruitment, training and equitable deployment (including reviewing compensation, incentives, wage structures and career progression);
- Enabling greater scrutiny of allocations and expenditure to inclusive education through greater transparency.
In light of the above, Education International is mobilising member organisations worldwide and calling on governments together with unions and other education stakeholders, to audit educational equity so that the equity gaps that have been widened and deepened by the Covid-19 pandemic receive urgent attention and remedy. Equity audits can enable education institutions and systems to adapt more effectively and equitably to a Covid-19 ‘new normal’ and help undo the structures of inequality that have, so far, prevented countries from realising the universal right to education for all.