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All Means All: funding, efficiencies, data and the quality of inclusiveness by Moira V. Faul

This NORRAG Highlights is contributed by Moira V. Faul, Executive Director, NORRAG. She examines the 2020 GEM Report, which highlights a concern for improving inclusion in education. Faul explains that the GEMR is useful in providing a reminder of progress on SDG4 and inclusion. It also raises the need for further data and research assessing the quality as well as the quantity of inclusiveness achieved.

As every year, the 2020 GEM Report illuminates a pressing issue for everyone with a concern for improving access, quality and equity in education. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has increased understanding of the negative impacts of even short-term exclusion from education on pupils’ and students’ education, as well as on their and their parents’ and teachers’ physical and emotional health, jobs and job prospects, among many others.

This GEMR on inclusion is critical because to date we have seen important increases in access to education. Yet, significant questions remain about quality (but that’s a topic for a different blog post!) and inclusion, since access has been increased among the easiest to reach. There are however, impacts at the individual and systems level of attempting to reach the less easy to reach and the effective exclusion of some learners that may be formally included in school rolls.

The report again reveals the context of underfunding in many countries and falling donor attention to education. Funding is inadequate even for routinely included children and youth, much less to addressing the needs and unleash the contributions of those that are excluded outside and inside schools.

The potential benefits of private sector approaches in education include providing what could be much needed, additional financing and making existing funding go further in efficiency savings. There is also an important systemic risk of private sector approaches (such as New Public Management) in education, however, regarding inclusion. Certain private sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects target excluded populations, for example in refugee education. However, for-profit private sector involvement tends to target the easier to reach (for an extended discussion, see our forthcoming Innovative Financing in Education Literature Review and case studies from India and Ethiopia and recent NORRAG Special Issue). Learners that are more difficult to reach are, by definition, more expensive to reach. Thus, measuring cost-efficiency in private sector approaches might have the unintended consequence of excluding already marginalized learners. This holds important implications for excluded learners, as detailed in the 2020 GEMR. There are also implications for the associated public education system, since it is more expensive for the government to reach the remaining – less accessible – marginalised learners. As a consequence, government schools may be evaluated as less efficient and cost-efficient in comparison to private schools, due to this confounding and hidden variable.

Limited funding goes hand in hand with limited data. Where there is no funding to collect certain data, they will not be collected; where there are no data to show a need, funding will not follow. The data used in this report make visible certain ongoing exclusions as well as the lack of data on others. This lack of data highlights the non-neutrality of data collection and governance, with so many exclusions remaining unseen and unheard. Questions remain as to who is counted, how and for what purposes. Why are these data collected (and others not), and who is served by collecting them (or not)? Revealing the extent of uncollected data allows the education and development community to ask how can we build on this to make excluded populations – and the quality of inclusiveness – visible and audible, while not leaving vulnerable populations open to stigmatisation, surveillance and reprisal.

The quality of inclusiveness in education also deserves attention, particularly the gaps between de jure and de facto inclusion. Decolonial and intersectional perspectives provide a vocabulary with which to examine the quality as well as the quantity of inclusion. First, a decolonial standpoint raises questions about the unequal terms on which inclusion may be undertaken in schools, and the lack of contextualisation of curricula and ‘global’ public goods that have been developed in the North. Surfacing and amplifying under-represented expertise, particularly from the South, is core to NORRAG’s mandate. Secondly, intersectionality highlights the effects on the individual of the complex interactions between several aspects of marginalisation and exclusion, such as gender, race, indigeneity, disability, migratory status, sexual orientation, and more. Thus, pupils and schools may be formally included in broader systems that effectively exclude their complex needs, contributions and contexts rather than building on their capabilities. Both decolonial and intersectional principles bring to the fore questions around the impacts of unequal inclusiveness for individuals in education systems, as well as the impoverishment of education systems through continued exclusion in practice.

Ultimately, the GEMR provides a useful annual reminder of progress on SDG4 and, this year, inclusion. It raises the need for further data and research assessing the quality as well as the quantity of inclusion achieved. The analyses that Manos and his team present raises questions on the extent to which SDG4 can be achieved without funding and policies that target equity and inclusiveness rather than parity in “price-per-pupil” ratios. In the absence of this focus, millions of children continue to be denied their right to an education.

About the author: Dr Moira V. Faul is NORRAG Executive Director. She joined NORRAG in April 2020. She previously worked as Deputy Director of the Public-Private Partnership Center at the University of Geneva, and was also Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute (IHEID) in 2019.

Contribute: The NORRAG Blog provides a platform for debate and ideas exchange for education stakeholders. Therefore, if you would like to contribute to the discussion by writing your own blog post please visit our dedicated contribute page for detailed instructions on how to submit.

Disclaimer: NORRAG’s blog offers a space for dialogue about issues, research and opinion on education and development. The views and factual claims made in NORRAG posts are the responsibility of their authors and are not necessarily representative of NORRAG’s opinion, policy or activities.

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