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Minister Cannon T.D. comments at discussion on Education Dialogue on Equity & Education

Why is it critical that equity and inclusion are at the centre of approaches to achieving SDG 4 – Quality Education?

Education is a right. All children are entitled to an education – in a context where the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an agenda we all agreed, is very clear that no one should be left behind.

If we are to make sure that no child is left behind, that all receive the education that is their right, our guiding principles should be equity and inclusion.

These are the principles which orientate Ireland’s development cooperation approach. Our aim is to which as far as possible reach the most vulnerable and neglected, and positively affect their lives. In so doing, in enabling everyone to maximise their potential, we all benefit – it is true education that human genius is unlocked, that people are enabled to live more productive lives.

This has been the experience of Ireland over my lifetime. It is only fifty years since free secondary education was introduced. In that time, we have changed from a nation which exported its young, unformed and ill-prepared, to a country which has one of the highest levels of third level education in Europe, attractive to migrants, and able to offer its citizens a higher standard of living than their grandparents could have ever imagined. Inclusive education was the key to this transformation.

How can we ensure that equity and inclusion are mainstreamed throughout education systems?
There is no silver bullet. Each country, and often regions within countries, has its own culture, its own strengths, its own weaknesses. If progress towards greater equity and inclusion is to be made, it will be made through understanding those local contexts and working with local partners – and at times challenging people in a respectful way to think outside the box. It is only through creative and new approaches that things can change.

Part of that challenge function is to ask those responsible for education policy development to focus on those furthest behind.
In order to help us ask the right questions at national level, Ireland’s education support is frequently in areas distant from capitals, often places with infrastructure deficits. I am referring to our engagement in places such as the Karamoja Region in Uganda or Niassa province in Mozambique. These experiences then inform our work at national level.
In this context, I would also highlight the need to respond to the education needs of children in situations of conflict or fragility. We can no longer let arcane distinctions between development assistance and humanitarian interventions get in the way of responding to the needs of the 75 million young people whose education has been disrupted by conflict and crisis. Refugees are five times less likely to attend school than other children, and the situation for girls is even worse.
Ireland supports education in emergencies, through Irish Aid.
I welcome the increased support with the Global Partnership for Education is placing on countries in fragility and conflict. I hope that this, together with other responses such as Education Cannot Wait, will ensure greater equity and inclusion in education of these most vulnerable young people.

How can donor governments ensure their support promotes equity and inclusion in education for girls and people with disabilities

The data shows that if those furthest behind are to be reached a priority must be ensuring that girls, especially girls from poorer households, can attain an education. This means targeted resource decisions.

Ireland works, with local partners, to address the barriers girls face in achieving their educational potential. This can include addressing such issues as gender inequality, violence in schools, teenage pregnancy, and community attitudes. It can mean looking to develop role models. And it can entail the reduction of financial obstacles to education. It also requires an ongoing investment in teacher training and in school provision, with local partners, to ensure sustainability into the medium term.

We all struggle, no matter where we come from, to meet the needs of those with disability.

A twin-track approach, mainstreaming disability at the policy level, and supporting disability specific programmes, is required if the education needs of people with disability are to be met. This is challenging when there is a battle for resources. However, I have seen a number of very interesting interventions, for example support technical and vocational education leading to employment – such as that through the Ethiopia Centre for Disability and Development. I have also seen the work done by Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation (CCBRT) Hospital in Tanzania, which has been a very strong and successful advocate for children with disabilities accessing mainstream education. The challenge remains capturing the vitality and learning from such interventions and building on them at national scale.

Plan International is calling for education to be gender transformative. What is gender transformative education and how can education systems as a whole support a gender transformative approach?

I agree that education should be transformative.

Ultimately, what we want to achieve is an environment wherein every child, regardless of gender, is enabled to maximise their potential.

That takes work. It takes resources. It takes decisions, based on best practice linked with local experience. It needs system strengthening. All of these elements working in harmony will allow our children to maximise their potential, regardless of gender.

How important are cross sectoral approaches to addressing barriers to girls education and achieving gender equality in and through education?

My experience, including as a former Minister in Ireland’s Department of Education, tells me that education should prepare children for life. Life is cross-sectoral. Our education systems must respond to the evolving needs of our societies. Our curricula can only evolve to meet those needs if it is in dialogue across government, with business, with civil society. By teaching our kids the right stuff, by helping them become successful – by whatever measure – we create a generation of role models who will inspire the generation coming behind. This is especially true for young girls, who need to see the value which education has brought to women who come from similar backgrounds.

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