Inclusive Education Systems: futures, fallacies and finance

Increasing inequality, protracted conflict, accelerating climate change, financial uncertainty and rapid transformation of labour markets are all exerting considerable pressure on education systems.  And within national systems there is stark evidence of high levels of inefficiency and inequality; many children have limited experience of school, and for many more their experiences are not productive for them or their families. Changes at system level and beyond are critically needed to deliver better learning outcomes for all – children, youth and adults – including the most vulnerable and marginalised.

SDG 4.5 calls for countries to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations”.  How can systems be reformed to enable them to provide large scale solutions to providing quality, inclusive education and training for all?

The pressure is on to find new and innovative ways to strengthen and improve education for all.  There are calls for education and training systems to reorient towards delivering the skills required for future work and social life- often termed ‘21st Century Skills’. However, we live in a period of time where the future is increasingly unpredictable, and the careers that many of today’s children will have, do not yet exist. Meanwhile, the vast majority of national education systems have not moved on, and remain bound to measuring quality and learning through rigid, knowledge acquisition-based tests. How might we re-imagine what inclusive education and training systems of the future should look like?

Misconceptions around inclusive education, and the needs of vulnerable groups can lead to resistance to change and misdirection of funding. Fallacies regarding the effectiveness of interventions across contexts, the feasibility of reform and the prospects of achieving multiple goals can lead to ineffective programmes that drain resources. Identifying the common fallacies regarding the development of inclusive education systems, and how these be addressed is critical.

Reforming systems to meet the education and training needs of all requires additional investment and flexibility across the board: early childhood development, formal education, technical and vocational training, higher education and adult education. How can global and national finances be mobilised in effective ways to enable the necessary reforms to take place?