Five Ways We Can Work Together To Achieve Inclusive Education For All

Senior Director at Wiley, leading his company’s Education business growth and profitability in Asia.

Growing inequality impacts economic growth and threatens social cohesion. This, in turn, can result in rising social and political tensions and could lead to instability, or worse, conflicts. To achieve a peaceful world, we must tackle discrimination and good education has considerable power to reduce inequality.

Over the past few decades, major progress was made toward eradicating poverty and increasing access to education. The Brookings Institution reported that 2019 marked “the lowest prevalence of extreme poverty ever recorded in human history.” More girls are going to school and with the rising middle class in Asia, more than half the world is now richer.

Despite these improvements, the 2018 World Inequality Report showed that income and wealth inequality has increased in nearly all world regions in recent decades, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic is now inflicting human and economic pain on society at large. As countries implement physical distancing measures, economic growth has stalled and unemployment has surged, but uneducated, unskilled and poor workers are likely to be hurt more severely. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that it’s estimated 1.6 billion students around the world were locked out of school as a result of the pandemic. While some of them were able to find alternative learning opportunities, many remain shut out, especially those from the most marginalized groups who didn’t have access to digital learning resources. Inequality is now being pushed to new extremes.

So, how do we ensure inclusive education for all? In this article, I will discuss five non-exhaustive recommendations.

1. We must tackle poverty.

Children born into poverty arrive in school already disadvantaged by poor access to healthcare and nutrition and are often faced with overcrowded facilities that lack trained and qualified teachers and resources. Those who are born into wealthier families have an opportunity to attend the best possible schools, giving them access to highly skilled teachers and a strong learning and professional network. This tremendous advantage in life explains why a research study from Georgetown University concluded a child’s likelihood of achieving early career success depends more on his or her family’s wealth and social status than on talent. While diversity and inclusion has gained greater importance in the business world, companies should double up and make conscious efforts to include these disadvantaged groups through corporate social responsibility initiatives. 

2. We need more data on those excluded from education.

While many are still missing the opportunity to access a quality education, not much data has been collected or reported on those who are left behind. UNESCO’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report found that 41% of countries, representing 13% of the global population, have not had a publicly available household survey to provide disaggregated data on key education indicators. This makes it challenging to target support to those most in need of help. Effective intervention strategy depends on data on inclusion. Companies can back research communities that can help to identify those who are left behind, or at risk of being left behind, and highlight gaps in educational opportunities and outcomes among learner groups.

3. Companies can promote inclusive access to education.

In doing so, companies can increase participation by students from underrepresented groups. For example the majority of students from Microsoft’s program are young women or students from marginalized racial and ethnic groups. Discrimination in education is not simply an issue of access, but also of content. Inclusive pedagogical design also means that learning resources should recognize contextual diversity and promote plurality rather than homogenization common under many national systems.

A great example of this is Dallas County Community College’s partnership with IBM. The college needed a way to quickly and easily translate videos of professors’ insights into text in order to meet requirements outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Initial quotes that the college received ranged from $2.50 to $5 per minute, which could have cost Dallas County more than $150,000. IBM offered up their Watson AI application and now provides 1,000 free minutes of audio conversion a month. Every minute over that costs 2 cents.

Companies can also set up an Inclusive Advisory Council that brings together a diverse group of inclusion leaders to help identify blind spots and advise on its training programs.

4. Learning institutions must ensure curricula offer pathways for continuous education opportunities.

High-quality curricula and assessments are key to achieving inclusive education for all. Students should be able to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways, regardless of learning ability. The full potential of technology should be fully exploited in this regard to reduce human biases in grading and allow more low-stake formative assessments over the education trajectory. For example, my company offers adaptive learning technology that provides continuous assessment delivered through a personalized learning experience. Content and questions have also been audited for accessibility, and the learning path complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

5. Governments can build trust with education and business leaders through representative engagement.

Through leadership, governments can create space to tackle these larger issues with a shared understanding of respective responsibilities. By defining inclusive education in its policies, laws and plans, governments can develop credible education sector plans and transparent budgets covering both public and private providers of education and ancillary services. Governments can consider more public-private partnerships to help address equity in education by compensating for relative disadvantage and allocating more resources to the disadvantaged communities with support from the private sector. 

Inequality in education is not inevitable. While we are going against deep-rooted norms, traditions and cultures, achieving inclusive education for all starts with the belief that it is not only a universal right but also possible if we all take shared responsibility.

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