Barriers to Widespread International Adoption of Inclusive Education

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Posted in Development and Learning Disability Diversity, Equity, Inclusion International Policy  |  Tagged

Sophia Nunn (GU’21), Nick Young (GU ’21), Daria Arzy (GU ’21), Jeewon Eom (GU ’22), Jennifer Guo (GU ’23) , and Abigail Ludwigson (GU ’21), February 15, 2022

Representatives of 92 governments and 25 international organizations attended the World Conference on Special Needs Education in 1992 producing the UNESCO Salamanca Statement, a guiding framework that called for inclusive education to be the new international standard in education. The primary objective of the statement was to create systems of education where all learners mattered equally and thus had equal access to a quality education regardless of physical or intellectual disability. The Salamanca Statement lauds inclusive schools as being “…the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all” (Ainscow et al., 2019). Despite international agreement on the merits of inclusive education, it still has yet to be implemented effectively in a widespread manner in countries with a varying range of levels of economic development. In the United States, 95% of disabled children spend part of their day in a regular education classroom (US Department of Education, 2018); this compares to the 65.3% and 29% of disabled children segregated into special-ed schools in France (Linertová at al., 2019) and South Korea (Republic of Korea Ministry of Education) respectively, and 61% of disabled children in Kenya who do not attend primary school at all (Odongo, 2018).

Even though over 25 years have passed since the signing of the Salamanca Statement, myriad factors have impeded full implementation of inclusive education. To gain insight as to why, we can generalize the social, political, and economic environments increasing barriers to inclusive education observed in studies focusing on particular nations. For instance, one 2018 article in the International Journal of Inclusive Education analyzed the barriers specific to Kenya, concluding that limitations in familial involvement in the education of disabled children is a major hindrance in its progression.

Many parents, especially in rural areas of Kenya, are unable to access important services for their children due to stigma, poverty, and a general lack of awareness of the existing resources available to them (Odongo, 2018). Firstly, due to negative cultural beliefs concerning disability, many families feel shame in communicating their child’s needs to teachers and other professionals, making it unlikely to develop a productive, individualized education and even preventing parents from sending their children to school entirely (Odongo, 2018). Secondly, parents, especially if they are disabled themselves, may struggle to afford the healthcare and rehabilitation services necessary for their child’s disability, making it nearly impossible to pay for textbooks and other learning materials that are not provided by public funds (Odongo, 2018). Furthermore, classroom sizes are often far too large to provide individualized attention to students, given that there is already a severe lack of funding for technologies that would facilitate learning, such as constructing physically accessible classrooms and training teachers to specialize in instructing children with disabilities (Odongo, 2018). Perhaps most importantly, in Kenya and many other countries, no legislation currently guarantees a child will not be turned away from a school due to their access needs.

Although poverty certainly exacerbates the problems associated with providing equal education for all, developed nations still struggle with the same issues. In an interview with Jin-gap Jang, a project director at a South Korean private school practicing inclusive education, he noted that their classrooms were still overwhelmingly populated by nondisabled students. He attributed this both to government quotas on the number of disabled students allowed per teacher, as well as the resources that the school had at its disposal to properly accommodate them. He also noted that many segregated special education schools still exist and were hidden away from the general public in the countryside. These two examples speak to a pronounced stigma attached to disability that still exists in societies all over the world. Public perception and policy seem to go hand in hand, and in envisioning a future that truly provides equal education for all, governments, as well as advocacy groups, need to continue to make every effort to change negative attitudes held about disability and exclusionary policies that continue to give them legitimacy.


Ainscow, M., Slee, R., & Best, M. (2019). Editorial: the Salamanca Statement: 25 years on, International Journal of Inclusive Education23:7-8, 671-676.

Linertová, R., González-Guadarrama, J., Serrano-Aguilar, P., Posada-De-la-Paz, M., Péntek, M., Iskrov, G., & Ballester, M. (2019). Schooling of Children with Rare Diseases and Disability in Europe. International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 66(4), 362–373.

Odongo, George. “Barriers to Parental/Family Participation in the Education of a Child with Disabilities in Kenya.” International Journal of Special Education 33.1 (2018): 21-33.

Republic of Korea Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Special Education. Ministry of Education .

US Department of Education. (2018). 40th annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2018.