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In the late 1980s, the Convention of the Rights of the Child became a milestone in the road towards inclusive education. That Convention not only conveyed the right to education but also required that education enhanced the child’s abilities and was respectful of cultural diversity, peace and the environment (United Nations 1989).
A few years later, the Salamanca Statement highlighted the straightforward connection between these requirements and the capacity of educational institutions. In order to integrate special education programs in mainstream schools, that statement vindicated that initial and in service teacher training, and external support to teachers were attentive to the wide diversity of students’ characteristics and needs (WCSND 1994).
In 2008, the UNESCO International Conference of Education, periodically convened by the International Bureau of Education, argued for a new understanding of inclusive education. Many documents were produced for that event. Most of these contributions claimed that action aiming to prevent inequalities and to curb social divides should be seen as a key component of the concept (International Bureau of Education 2008).
In coherence, the next Research 9 year UNESCO (2009) issued a handbook of policy guidelines making an array of recommendations on how to implement this wide notion of inclusive education along the whole cycle of educational policy-making. Simultaneously, some academic discussion of inclusive education has been undertaken in the pages of the International Journal of Inclusive Education and other academic publications. The main theme of this scholarship focuses on the need to link school effectiveness and social justice. The school effectiveness movement claims that school improvement can overcome the constraints of students’ socio-economic background if teachers are able to implement the appropriate modes of performance-based management, team work, student-centered pedagogies and evidence-based innovation.
Linking this point with inclusive education, some authors propose methods to strengthen the learning of students with special education needs that eventually benefit the institutional performance of schools as institutions committed to everybody’s effective learning (Booth/Ainscow 2002). But scholars have engaged in the debate drawing on many other perspectives. Remarkably, some authors argue that inclusive education should be aware of power asymmetries in order to tackle inequalities. These publications also stage some initial reflections on the need to make teacher education more relevant for inclusive education (Polat 2011).
In brief compared to the previous definitions of Education for All both the Sustainable Development Goals and inclusive education stand for a broader understanding of the core mandate of governments, international organizations and donors who are interested in education. The main official documents openly remind of the multiple dimensions of education, the connections between this one and the other SDGs, the need to counteract inequalities and recognize diversity, and the importance of building institutional capacity to cater to students with special needs at the same time as the general educational goals are pursued.
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