Promoting quality education for all.

Civil Society at the Work Bank: Investing in Disability Inclusive Early Childhood Education

Katie Loos, GCE-US, 
Civil Society at the Work Bank: Investing in Disability Inclusive Early Childhood Education

Photo: Anna Martin, GCE-US, Disability-Inclusive Education Advocacy Officer; Hanna Alasuutari, World Bank, Global Thematic Lead of Inclusive Education, Education Global Practice; Rachel Burton, BIC, Social Inclusion Campaign Manager; Dragana Sretenov, Open Society Foundations, Senior Program Manager - Early Childhood; Nafisa Baboo, Light for the World, Director of Inclusive Education. 


On Thursday, April 11th during the World Bank Civil Society Meetings the Global Campaign for Education-US moderated a panel on the Importance of Investing in Disability Inclusion Early Childhood Education with representatives from the Bank Information Center, Light for the World, Open Society Foundations, and the World Bank.

Approximately 250 million children (43%) under the age of five living in low-income and middle-income are at risk of meeting their developmental potential because of avoidable deficiencies in early childhood development. Children with disabilities are adversely affected by this inadequacy, with an estimated 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries out of school.

During the critical time period from birth until age 8, children in low-income countries face setbacks to basic needs that undermine their health and wellbeing. For children with disabilities, this period is often extended. While early childhood education (ECE) is often recognized for its value in physical, mental, and cognitive development, ECE concurrently enables long term investment in children’s growth beyond the basics of their survival. By using a multi sectoral approach, sufficiently funded schools and supported communities can provide an outlet for early learning that offers holistic development programs to support a variety of needs and abilities. Ultimately, students are empowered to mirror this development back into their own communities.

While the urgency of this issue has garnered increased public attention, a longstanding investment gap for early childhood education and inclusive education continues to hinder progress. Yet, as Rachel Burton of the Bank Information Center stressed, the international community is “finally moving away from why this is important, and moving toward how.” The “how” meaning what role multilateral and international funds have to play in addressing the inadequacy.

Nafisa Baboo of Light for the World and Dragana Sretenov of Open Society Foundations presented the recommendations from their recent report Costing Equity, which highlights the lack of global investment in disability inclusive early education. The report found that overall, bilateral and multilateral aid for education is declining, and it calls on both government and donor agencies to increase their support for disability inclusive ECE.

Building on these findings, Light for the World and Open Society Foundations introduced their work on a new study, Leaving No One Behind When Learning Starts that aims to promote equitable financing for inclusive ECE by analyzing the investments made by 12 major donors globally. The report will compile best practices and develop policy briefs for each donor country to investigate to what extent the donors fund inclusive education projects, and how these programs operate at the local level. Additionally, the report will prioritize a twin track approach to inclusive education for children with disabilities that both assesses investments in mainstream inclusive learning and the effectivity of specific interventions for children with disabilities.

Following this panel, it is clear that investment in disability inclusive ECE will vitalize local economies in the long term. Cross sectoral discussions like these allow civil society advocates to hold stakeholders accountable for funding programs that positively impact communities. “Leaving No One Behind When Learning Starts” means eliminating inadequacies that harm access to quality, inclusive education by investing in individualized and evidence-based approaches.

Katie Loos is the Research and Communications Fellow at GCE-US

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