The Education for All and inclusive education debate: conflict, contradiction or opportunity?


This paper begins with an exploration of the history of the international Education for All (EFA) programme and its tendency to overlook some marginalised groups of children, in particular those seen as having 'special educational needs' or impairments and disabilities. The exclusion from 'mainstream' education programmes of the estimated, though unreliable, figures of 90 or 98% of children in Southern countries has, until relatively recently, been largely unchallenged. The explanation lies in the still prevalent view that some children are 'ineducable' and that overcrowded and under-resourced schools would not be able to cope. Consequently, a largely parallel, international debate has developed about 'inclusive education', within which many conflicting positions exist. We suggest that there is an unhelpful and wasteful polarisation between EFA and inclusive education. Although inclusive education is defined by some writers in terms of overcoming barriers to learning and development for all children, in the context of Southern countries it tends to fill the gap left by EFA and so focuses almost exclusively on disabled children. This paper challenges some of the rhetoric, but also highlights the opportunities created by the current international interest in, and apparent commitment to, delivering quality education for all children. The paper concludes by offering a re-conceptualisation of the relationship between EFA and inclusive education, argues for greater collaboration and synergy between these currently parallel initiatives, and suggests ways in which practitioners and policy makers can develop more sustainable, and contextappropriate, policies and practices.


International Journal of Inclusive Education (2009) 14 (1) 1-15.

The Education for All and inclusive education debate: conflict, contradiction or opportunity?

Published 1 January 2009