Is DFID looking the other way on disability and education?

A recent report has called up UK’s Department for International Development for a strategic silence on inclusion of disadvantaged groups in its education programmes (hat tip to The Guardian Global Development). Equity and Inclusion for All in Education from the Global Campaign for Education is very much like ice-cream on a hot afternoon for me as one of the disadvantaged groups they consider is disabled people.

Based on an analysis of DFID’s operational plans and other documentation from fourteen countries the report finds that, apart from special attention to girls, the inclusion of marginalized groups was not addressed systematically in DFID’s operational plans. The argument of the report is that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

In project and planning documents there “does not appear to be a clear focus” on including marginalized groups other than girls, nor is their participation measured systematically in evaluations. On the one hand it is “likely” that DFID-funded programmes “have had some impact on the promotion of equity and inclusion for a wider range of vulnerable groups”. But on the other hand “there is little indication that, other than girls, those groups of children identified as being most likely to be excluded have been strategically targeted.”

These are certainly important findings. But the report could have shown more reflexivity first in considering DFID’s focus on disability and second in the required steps to develop inclusive education.

DFID has done and funded plenty of work and research on disability, and its issues paper on “Disability, poverty, and development” (2000) is still widely referenced (although not by this report). The first question is on a theoretical level: are DFID’s existing positions on disability sufficient and appropriate for inclusive education as well, or does inclusive education show that the position on disability is lacking in some way? The following question is, given DFID’s position on disability, why doesn’t this come through explicitly in its education programmes? These seem to be institutional questions closer to the heart of the matter; recommending that policy name-check disability seems to be addressing the symptom not the cause.

The second issue is about the pathway to inclusive education. One of the arguments for including disabled children in education is that this will make education better for all children, regardless of disability status. But what about the converse – does making education better for the majority of children also make it better for disabled children? If it did, then a lack of an explicit approach on DFID’s part is not necessarily a problem. The initiatives that benefit non-disabled children would also benefit disabled children.

This is a vital question for work on disability: how much are disabled people excluded from mainstream schemes? Is DFID funding schools and education systems that either directly or indirectly turn away children with disabilities? This is very possible, but the evidence for it isn’t presented so clearly in this report, nor is the question stated so clearly. The report asks for more data collecting and research. If this data and research showed that DFID’s programmes were effectively including disabled children, then you wouldn’t need their explicit inclusion in strategy development. And if the results showed that programmes were excluding disabled children then these results would (hopefully) be the most effective impetus for movement within DFID’s bureaucracy to address the issue strategically.

People with disabilities have been and are being excluded and included from the beginning of time, and often both inclusion/exclusion are done by people without any reference to the concept of “disability”. The pathway towards inclusive education outlined in the report (section 2.1) has a whole series of measures that do not make specific reference to disability; so why should DFID’s operational plans?

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