Developing inclusive and equitable education systems

The year 2019 sees the 25th anniversary of the World Conference on Special Needs Education. Co-organized by UNESCO and the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain, and held in the city of Salamanca, it led to the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, arguably the most significant international document that has ever appeared in the field of special education. In so doing, it endorsed the idea of inclusive education, which was to become a major influence in subsequent years.

On the occasion of this Forum, UNESCO will capitalize on its unique convening power to give new impetus to inclusion in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, by addressing questions such as:

  • How can we advance legislation, policies, programs and practices that ensure inclusion and equity in education?
  • What actions must governments take to translate principles into practice in order to ensure inclusive learning environments?
  • What recommendations can help to foster inclusion and equity in education?

With these questions as the focus, this discussion paper looks at the past, present and future in relation to the ideas presented in the Salamanca Statement in order to guide the further development of national policies and practices1. In so doing, it explains the way that confusion regarding what is meant by key terms, such as inclusion and equity, has often made progress difficult. It also shows how more recent international policy documents have helped to bring greater clarity to discussions of these concepts.

Drawing on international research and experiences, the paper concludes with a series of actions that are recommended to guide future developments.