Every learner matters: A renewed drive for inclusion in education in Cali

© Felipe Lopez

“To overcome inequality and injustice, we must widen the lens by acting on all factors that marginalize children and youth and hijack their educational journey.”

In her opening remarks, Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education set the tone of the International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Education that took place in Cali, Colombia from 11 to 13 September 2019 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Salamanca World Conference.

A call for renewed impetus

Every learner matters equally, regardless of their specific needs, difference, status and gender. But 25 years after the adoption of the Salamanca Statement, ensuring each learner has an equal opportunity to receive and benefit from an education remains a major issue worldwide.

Still today, 750 million adults around the world cannot read or write. And 262 million children and youth are out of school worldwide.

A renewed impetus for action on inclusion in education by governments and partners, the Forum provided a unique platform for debate, experience-sharing and networking. It devised strategies needed to accelerate the progress started at Salamanca in fostering education systems that make inclusion a reality.

The Forum stressed the urgency to build education systems that make diversity a strength, and where every learner matters equally.

Every learner matters equally

As underlined by the theme “Every learner matters”, the Forum was an opportunity to revive the broadened notion of inclusion as a general guiding principle to strengthen equal access to quality learning opportunities. It showcased the wide range of people who would benefit from inclusion in education.

From people with disabilities, children and young people whose inclusion is jeopardized by their health status such as pregnant and parenting girls and people living with HIV , to indigenous populations, young LGBTI people and people on the move, inclusion in education is needed for all learners across different settings.

The Forum enabled the voices of young people, directly affected by the shortcomings of education systems around the world, to be heard. “Our main goal should be that every child can grow up to be the person that they dream to be without facing any system of exclusion,” said youth representative Omar Didi. “This can only be achieved through inclusion in education.” They spoke to why inclusion in education matters to them, engaging the audience to partake in a live poll on this question.

“To talk about quality education means approaching education from a point of view of inclusion. It means recognizing children, young people and adolescents as learners with rights,” said María Victoria Angulo, Minister of Education of Colombia.

The fact that learners are in school does not mean that they are included’, said João Costa, State Secretary of the Ministry of Education of Portugal. The Forum recognized, as concluded in Salamanca, that schools integrating an inclusive curriculum and environment are the most effective means of reaching all learners and building an inclusive society.

At school, teachers, head teachers and administrators should be empowered and supported with tools and knowledge to respond to the diverse learning needs of their students in an environment free from discriminatory attitudes and gender-based discrimination.

Discussions highlighted the need for adequate legislative frameworks to address discrimination in education and more investments to build stronger national capacity for statistics and disaggregated data on the topic.

The Forum resulted in the establishment of the “Cali Statement”, an outcome document stating the commitments of involved parties in accelerate action on inclusion in education. Read the outcome document.

More than 450 delegates from over 55 countries came together over three days to attend the Forum organized by UNESCO, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of Colombia and the City of Cali. In attendance were government officials, education practitioners and educators, researchers and experts, representatives of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, development partners, civil society representatives and private sector stakeholders, among others.

A synthesis report documenting the main achievements and outcomes of the Forum is forthcoming.

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