Importance of Investing in Disability-Inclusive Education: outcomes of our European roundtable

During European Disability and Development Week 2019, Light for the World and the European Disability Forum (EDF) organised a roundtable on the importance of investing in disability inclusive education and early childhood development (ECD). The reflection that led us to this topic was two-fold.
Speakers from left to right they are: Marianna Lipponen (DG DEVCO, European Commission), Elena Vilar-Pascual (DG DEVCO, European Commission), Delfina Hary (Light for the World in Mozambique), Catherine Naughton (EDF), Milan Šveřepa (Inclusion Europe), Carlos Cabo (Plan International)

Firstly, the objective of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 is to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. However, an estimated 32 million primary and lower-secondary-school age children with disabilities in developing countries are out of school.

At the same time, as stated in the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) General Comment No.4 from 2016, “inclusive education requires an in-depth transformation of education systems in legislation, policy, and the mechanisms for financing, administration, design, delivery and monitoring of education”.

Our event in December 2019

In the context of European Union (EU) Development Cooperation, Light for the World and EDF gathered experts with varied and complementary perspectives on the questions of the day: how should children with disabilities be included in EU development policy and programmes on education and across ECD sectors? What challenges and opportunities are stakeholders facing?

We had representation from EU institutions, disability-focused NGOs, mainstream NGOs, and very importantly, representative organisations of persons with disabilities. Our speakers were Elena Vilar-Pascual (DG DEVCO Unit B4, European Commission); Marianna Lipponen (DG DEVCO Unit B3, European Commission); Delfina Hary (Inclusive Education Project Manager, Light for the World in Mozambique); Milan Šveřepa (Director, Inclusion Europe); Carlos Cabo (EU Partnership Manager, Plan International); and the event was moderated by Catherine Naughton (Director, EDF).

The roundtable was organised around a fictional but realistic case study that was used as an entry point for speaker interventions as well as exchanges with the audience. With this methodology, several ideas and observations emerged as to the characteristics of effective inclusion in the field of education, especially ECD.

The outcomes

It is clear that inclusive education requires a cross-sectoral, systemic approach: it goes beyond education, addressing inclusive education through, for instance, social protection, health and gender…  at both the local level as well as at national government level. Development cooperation efforts should strive to ensure such joint work, with a mind to foster national ownership.

Participation of the community, including persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, and their families, is also a key element. Relevant stakeholders are best placed to identify policy gaps and to help navigate local contexts, also raising awareness in their communities as to the importance of inclusive education. It must be noted that focusing on quality, inclusive and accessible education for all benefits also children without disabilities.

To achieve such benefits, it is vital to ensure that teachers are properly trained, properly paid, and have access to adequate educative materials. While budget support is the main tool of EU Development Cooperation, to ensure proper financing of education, closer linkages should be made with local CSOs and DPOs, especially when it comes to technical expertise.

Finally, our participants highlighted the necessity to gather thorough, disaggregated, and comparable data about education and early childhood development of children with disabilities. This should include investment in education management information systems.

Further reading

Leave No Child Behind: Invest in the early years (2019) - research summary report and advocacy briefs by Light for the World with the support of Open Society Foundation and in collaboration with the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC), the Global Campaign for Education – United States (GCE), and the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN)

#Costing Equity: The case for disability-responsive education financing (2016) - report developed by IDDC, led by Light for the World with the support of Open Society Foundations.

For more information, contact Sarah Hull, Light for the World’s EU Advocacy Coordinator: s.hull [at], or Marion Steff, EDF’s International Cooperation Manager: marion.steff [at] .