To mark Zero Discrimination Day 2021, the GEM Report team, the European Students’ Union, the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions and the Global Students Forum came together yesterday, March 1, to host an interactive webinar on the findings and recommendations from the 2021 regional report on inclusion and education in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
As with the 2020 GEM Report and the 2020 regional report on inclusion and education in Latin America and the Caribbean, this new regional report highlights the need to recognise young people and communities as partners for change in the implementation of Agenda 2030. Young people’s involvement, engagement and development in strengthening the foundations of inclusive education systems is an end in itself, as well as a means for young people to actively influence and shape education reforms.
The discussion, which was supported by the GEM Report’s partners in this regional edition, the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education and the Network of Education Policy Centers, led to the following joint youth statement calling on governments and regional organizations to fulfil their commitments to ensure the right to education for all, highlighting the essential role of students and youth to act as a watchdog to monitor government commitments for the right to inclusive education. The statement will form the backbone of the group’s joint advocacy initiatives and campaigns throughout 2021 and beyond.
We, the members of the European Students’ Union, the Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions and the Global Students Forum, call for Ministers of Education and European decision-makers to ensure inclusion in education for all learners. Even before the COVID-19 education crisis, our region’s education systems were working for some and not for others.
On Zero Discrimination Day it is time for policy makers to rethink the persistence of segregation and discrimination in Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Much progress has been made in education access in the region over the past 20 years; it is time to go the final mile.
Today, 3.7 million children and young people across the region are missing out on education, especially the most marginalized children, including girls, ethnic and linguistic minorities, migrants and refugees, children with disabilities, and those from low-income families or living in remote areas. Discrimination does not stop at school doors. Rather than welcoming what each learner brings, education is often too rigid, pushing many learners out. Two in ten children in the region feel like outsiders in school.
The new 2021 Regional Report on inclusion and education by the UNESCO GEM Report for Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia underlines the importance of thinking of education as more than about just delivering academic success; the right to be in good physical and mental health, happy and connected with others is as important as the right to learn. Multiple examples are given to show that a legacy of segregated education for children with special needs, Roma learners and linguistic minorities is holding back greater diversity in our classrooms, and greater acceptance for diversity in our societies as a result. Rather than learning with and from each other, we learn apart. We all miss out.
As the combined voice of 40 million students from across the region, we demand strong action from governments and regional institutions to fulfil their commitments to inclusive education. The Report’s ten messages provide a road map to strengthen education systems. There can be no excuse for inaction. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed inequalities to breaking point making moves towards inclusion even more critical.
We each have a role to play in ensuring that no child is left behind. For our part, we will hold governments to account with the power of our voices and actions. We need education systems and institutions that work for everyone, whatever their identity, background, or ability, in which people feel safe and can thrive.
Join us today in calling for action to end discrimination in education.