How is the World Bank Moving Closer to Inclusive Education?

As published on the Global Campaign for Education-United States Action Blog.

Recently, the World Bank (Bank) has made inclusion a cross-cutting theme for its education work, including those groups most commonly excluded in order to establish education for all. The Bank Information Center (BIC) has focused on ensuring the most marginalized are in school and have the necessary supports and services to enable them to learn. We partner with local advocacy organizations to monitor Bank-funded projects and work with the Bank and national governments to improve projects when we find that not all children are in school and learning.

The Bank has made strides in making its education projects more inclusive. In July 2018 at the Global Disability Summit, the World Bank committed to “Ensuring that all WB-financed education programs and projects are disability-inclusive by 2025.” In May 2019, the Bank released its Equity and Inclusion in Education Report, highlighting its progress in developing inclusive education projects, the lessons learned, and the framework for inclusive project design moving forward. The report specifically targets those most likely to be excluded from education systems--children and youth with disabilities, indigenous children and youth, and children and youth who are gender and sexual minorities. It examines the myriad ways these children and youth are excluded from project benefits and provides a framework for including them.

Education systems that do not approach these groups as cross-cutting cannot be fully inclusive, because students might belong to multiple groups, requiring additional consideration in the design of education projects in order to be included. The Bank identifies how countries should transition from segregated education systems to fully inclusive ones, by focusing on education systems that address the Bank’s key pillars of inclusive education: Availability, Acceptability, Adaptability, Safety, Gender and Age-Responsiveness, Participation, and Accessibility and Nondiscrimination.

The report enumerates the specific ways that each of the aforementioned groups face barriers within country education systems, how those barriers can be dismantled, and how to fully include all learners once these barriers are removed. Each section contains not only guidance, but examples from prior Bank projects that provide insight into inclusive project design. Finally, the document contains examples for evaluating inclusion of each group in future education projects, which if utilized correctly will produce a wealth of knowledge on the effectiveness of inclusive project design.

The report explains the transition from a segregated, non-inclusive education system to a fully inclusive one and details the ways in which these learners can be included. This will require changing curricula, constructing inclusive infrastructure, including educators from these groups, and eventually changing to overall culture within school systems to see the inclusion of these children and youth as critical to the overall success of an education system.

Many common barriers highlighted in the report reflect what BIC has encountered in our inclusive education work. For example, in Lesotho, inaccessible infrastructure was a key barrier to education for students with disabilities. As a result of BIC’s advocacy with our local partner, the World Bank funded Lesotho Education Quality for Equality Project (LEQEP) was restructured to include funding for construction to improve school buildings and facilities. This will help LEQEP meet its stated goals of reducing dropout rates and increasing retention rates since many children and youth were not going to school because they were not protected from the elements while in school or the schools did not have latrines. Additionally, including construction also has the potential to make schools accessible and allow for children and youth with disabilities to use the buildings, bringing more students into the education system.

The World Bank’s progress on inclusion, and inclusive education specifically, would not be possible without civil society pushing the Bank to adopt higher standards. In the coming years, CSOs will find themselves uniquely positioned to fill gaps in knowledge in designing fully inclusive projects, using this report as a resource for how to include those most often excluded.

In our work in Nepal on the School Sector Development Program, we see the report as a tool to help advocate with the Task Team Leader (TTL) to adopt resources such as textbooks that include indigenous languages. This is critical in Nepal, with many indigenous languages but without instructional materials in many of those languages, nor teachers trained to teach in multiple languages. A similar tool, Including Persons with Disabilities in Water Sector Operations: A Guidance Note, has enabled our Ugandan partners to push their government to make improvements to inclusive project design that incorporates the needs of persons with disabilities in water and sanitation projects. This report will help education partners do the same. It will allow CSOs to not only raise the issues with TTLs and others involved in education projects, but also to provide clear guidance for how to solve them. This document presents a unique opportunity for CSOs to work with the Bank, using its own resources, to explain how to design an inclusive project and how to overcome barriers in doing so.