THE BLOG

Funding a Future Generation: Where No Child Is Left Behind

12/03/2014 11:27 GMT | Updated 11/05/2014 10:59 BST

This week I attended the Commonwealth Observance Day service, where I was privileged to hear from Lord Coe, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Malala Yousafzai.

The theme of the event centred around team as the Commonwealth builds up to the 2014 games.

Sport has an amazing power to unite people during the most challenging times, but it also is about empowering people to realise their goals, going "faster, higher and stronger". And in sport we see athletes represented both able bodied and disabled, and for the first time, in London 2012 all nations were represented by both men and women. True equality.

But education is not inclusive.

Of the 57 million children not in education, around half of these do not attend because of their disability. This may be because they cannot travel to school due to their disability, that a lack of limbs may prevent from writing or that being without one of the senses prohibits their ability to learn without adequate resources.

Furthermore education does not account for pupils with learning disabilities, many of whom struggle without the necessary support, consequently lacking confidence and leaving school illiterate.

Children with disabilities are often invisible in official education statistics. The lack of health assessments for children in many countries means that many children with disabilities are never identified. This can lead to a lack of monitoring for provision, a lack of funding towards infrastructure which might mean children in one area can travel to school or simply a lack of knowledge on existence of disabled children within a particular community. They are simply unaccounted for.

Failing to educate children with disabilities often leaves them in a lifelong poverty trap, whilst a decent education could provide a lifeline. The provision of inclusive education benefits all children, not just those with disabilities. Inclusion means that schools are designed so that all children experience quality learning and recreation together. This means providing students with disabilities with help like access to Braille, sign language and adapted curricula that allow them equal opportunity to learn and interact.

In recent decades we have seen progress which the following case studies highlight.

Since the break-up of Communism, Mongolia saw a collapse of primary school attendance to just 7%. Whilst efforts were made to increase schools and participation, special schools for disabled pupils were excluded with many families ashamed of their children. There was no training on including disabled children in mainstream learning leaving teachers without confidence in their abilities to teach or the children's ability to learn. Those that did try to attend mainstream schools were turned away.

Since then NGOs such as Save the Children have provided inclusive education training sessions for teachers and parents particularly in remote areas of the country, particularly focussing on inclusive teaching, problems of segregation and how to overcome this.

Those who received the training went on to train further colleagues, and by 2005 1600 teachers were trained in inclusive approaches.

In the areas where the training was used, enrolment of disabled children grew between 22-44%.

Disabled children have also expressed their confidence in coming to school as they are treated well by teachers and classmates.

Born in a small remote village in Western Kenya, Anne Wafula Strike's early life was marked by rejection and discrimination. She contracted polio at the age of two, leaving her unable to walk unaided. The villagers she lived among believed she was cursed and threatened to burn her family's house if they did not leave.

Anne's father was a strong believer in education and he insisted that Anne should receive the same chances in life as other children. After struggling through her secondary school years due to an inaccessible environment, Anne managed to get the grades necessary to attend university, and trained as a teacher.

At Athens in 2004, Anne became the first ever wheelchair racer from East Africa to compete in the Paralympic games, and she also won a bronze medal for Team GB in the 2007 Paralympic World Cup.

The world is waking up to inclusive education and in recent years the Global Partnership for Education have assisted the Cambodian Government and local partners to undertake community mapping projects, which pin-point exactly where children are out of school to diagnose impairments and provide follow-up support.

Whilst these projects require both a lot of technical and financial input, they all detailed monitoring of vulnerable people ensuring resources are allocated where they are needed most.

A further example of progress highlights DFID funded classrooms in Malawi where up to 70% of classrooms are now supported with accessibility ramps.

Inclusive education still has a mountain to climb if we are to achieve equality in education for every child in every country.

"For every Paralympic medal-winner, there are millions of disabled people in the developing world who are treated as sub-human and forgotten". Lynne Featherstone

So as we progress from the London Paralympics, in the middle of the winter Paralympics and looking ahead to the Commonwealth Games, we need to "recognise that the universal right to education extends to all individuals and children with disabilities" and that a true legacy from these games and beyond is when "nations act upon their obligation to establish or reform public education systems that are accessible to, and meet the needs of persons with disabilities."

"It's not what they can't achieve, but what they can achieve." Tanni Grey-Thompson