By Vivian Onano, Youth Advisor, Global Education Monitoring Report Advisory Board
Today, the GEM Report is launching its youth report on inclusion and education. It shows that too many young people miss out on equal chances in education. As the youth adviser to the Report, I wrote the foreword for this new publication because I know that my story would not have been possible without education. Growing up in a disadvantaged village in Kenya, I saw many girls like me lose their chance at a good education because of poverty and child marriage. At 13, I left home to attend the Starehe Girls Centre, a centre for excellence for academically talented girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, becoming one of the many young people around the world who have to travel far from their homes to receive a good education. I came a long way in more than one way: because of the educational opportunities that I had, I was able to fulfil my potential and become a youth leader and activist. The chance to become whatever one wants to be is a chance that should be available to everyone.
I have been advising the GEM Report team on the multiple activities it has been running throughout the year to engage young people in its calls for change. Inclusion in education impacts us, it involves us and it needs us to happen.
Look, for instance, at some of the people that were nominated in the GEM Report’s campaign for champions in inclusion and education. Twelve such champions feature in this new Youth Report one of whom I am interviewing, on Instagram Live on the GEM Report’s Instagram page soon. Join us to hear Brina Kei M Maxino, from the Philippines, talk about being born with Down syndrome, and how she overcame discrimination, bullying and low expectations to receive a college degree in history and be chosen as a Global Youth Ambassador for Special Olympics. Young people are not and should not be passive in the fight for inclusion as so many of these stories show.
The youth report shows the extent to which millions are excluded from education, and millions more excluded once in school. It shows that when we see figures on learning, these do not tell the story of those who are excluded. These figures are mostly taken from school, even if many are not participating. In addition, of the countries that are carrying out learning assessments, more than half report only average scores.
Young people have many experiences of what inclusion means, and the extent to which it has been denied to us. This new report has the finalists from a photo contest run with youth on inclusion and education around the world – a competition it runs each year on the current theme of its report. The winning photo was of a child living with albinism who the photographer helped to campaign for a place in school. It is another story of hope, and a demonstration of the role we can all play. This new report says that, when we say ‘Education for All’, #AllmeansALL. There are no exceptions. And it is up to us to make that promise a reality.
As a youth activist myself, I encourage all young people to use this report to recognize the ways in which our systems empower – and sometimes disempower – people through education. Read it to learn how people are working to make education inclusive for all and use it to hold to account the people who are not. Find out about the recommendations for governments to help them address the challenge of creating and fostering inclusive education and speak out to make sure your government is doing its best for every member of society. The GEM Report has a new poll running for the next few months, which is calling on all of us to highlight which of the recommendations it advises on the path to inclusion and education you think is most important in your country. Once you’ve voted, you can share the results with your education minister on twitter. I encourage you to take part. If we all combine our voices, we will be heard.
Our generation has been born into a world that is facing serious challenges. From the global COVID-19 pandemic to the existential threat of climate change, every person in every part of the world has been and will be affected by the threats facing us. That is all the more reason why every one of us must play our part in finding solutions – and education for all is essential in giving us the tools to do that. We each have a role to play in ensuring that no child is left behind and investing in inclusive education is made a priority at all levels of leadership. We need education systems and institutions that work for everyone, whatever their identity or identities, in which people feel safe and can thrive. I count on you to raise your voices to help create and support those systems.