Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”. At this point in time, it seems that the promise of education for development would be obvious. However, there still remain huge disparities across the globe that prove otherwise; one leading case being the lack of access to education for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Of the 11 references to disabilities in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, two are in SDG 4. The first is to “ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities” and the second is to “build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”. These mentions are extremely important in combatting negative stereotypes that continue to marginalize PWDs and to better ensure future participation of PWDs who have time and time again been excluded from the decision-making process.
Inclusive education, or should I say exclusive education, is a topic I first really came in contact with when I was in Nairobi. I interned with an organization that provided physical therapy to children with disabilities living in informal settlements. The organization wanted to expand their services to address a huge issue for these children and their families: most of them were not in school. There were several reasons for these children not being in school, but the leading factors were that school staff felt PWDs did not have need for education or that the students would hinder the education of other, non-disabled students. For the children that were enrolled in school, they were put in the wrong classes and/or not given the appropriate instructions. For example, one child I worked with who had cerebral palsy was obviously able to speak and I witnessed his improvement in the short few months I was with him, but his mother informed me that his teachers made no attempt to develop this skill with him. This frustrating example is one of many similar stories around the world.
While inclusive education does put additional demands on school systems that may already have little resources to begin with, it is unfair to say who does or doesn’t deserve the right to education. Additionally, as with many other areas, making education inclusive does not hurt anyone else and instead usually has benefits for the population as a whole. Finally, inclusive education must be at the forefront of development measures as it is one of the, if not the, best ways to ensure participation for PWDs so that future development agendas are truly inclusive in all areas.