Global Education and Literacy Initiative

Inclusive Education

Half a century ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) asserted education to be a basic human right, a right that was reaffirmed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989). Importantly, this Convention recognized particular issues to be addressed in order to truly ensure educational opportunities for all children. For this reason, the Convention has been followed up in recent years by a movement that has sought to turn the educational rights of the child into a reality. This movement, Education for All (EFA), was launched at the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990. A decade later, in 2000, 176 countries gathered in Dakar, Senegal at the World Forum on Education to review progress and reaffirm the global agenda for Education for All (EFA). As a result, the forum declared that Education for All must take into account the needs of marginalized groups including, among others, those with special learning needs. As a participant in this World Forum, the GUCCHD made a commitment to broaden its work around children with disabilities and inclusive education to respond to this global call to action.

To this end, the GUCCHD works closely with the United Nations Scientific, Educational, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on inclusive education—an approach that recognizes each child to be a unique learner and requires ordinary schools to be capable of educating all children in their community regardless of physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic, or other differences. The GUCCHD has been a major catalyst and, now, an important partner in implementing The Flagship on Education for All and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Towards Inclusion (housed at UNESCO) that ensures that the right to education and the goals of the Dakar Framework are realized for individuals with disabilities. The Flagship seeks to unite all EFA partners (global disability organizations, international development agencies, intergovernmental agencies, and experts in the fields of special and inclusive education) in their efforts to provide access to and promote completion of quality education for every child, youth, and adult with a disability.

The challenge is significant. According to best estimates of international agencies,

  • Over 90%of children with disabilities in developing countries do NOT attend schools.
  • 500,000 children every year lose some part of their vision due to vitamin A deficiency.
  • 41 million babies are born each year at risk of mental impairment due to insufficient iodine in their mothers’ diets.
  • For every child killed in armed conflict, three are injured and permanently disabled. 40% out of 26,000 persons killed and injured by landmines every year are children. Over 10 million children are psychologically traumatized by armed conflicts.

As a flagship partner and member of the steering committee, the GUCCHD

  • Promotes the full participation of persons with disabilities and families in the development of policies and practices related to the education of persons with disabilities at local, national, regional, and global levels;
  • Seeks to ensure that all governmental entities, donors, and NGO’s endorse the universal right of education for all children, youth, and adults with a disability;
  • Acts as a catalyst to fully incorporate the Flagship Goal into national plans of action and regional policies; and
  • Identifies and disseminates effective practices and stimulate research and studies related to the Flagship Goal to include such areas as quality teacher education and school organization.
Publications and Products

The Center, in collaboration with UNESCO has produced the following documents related to the implementation of EFA:

  • Magrab,P.R. (Ed.). (2005). Education Through Art. Paris, France: UNESCO.
  • Magrab,P.R. (Ed.). (2003). Towards Inclusive Education: Practices in Secondary Education. Paris, France: UNESCO.
  • Magrab, P.R. (2003). Open File on Inclusive Education: Support Materials for Managers and Administrators. Paris, France: UNESCO.


The Education For All agenda not only aims at assuring that all children receive a basic education but at improving literacy outcomes throughout the world as well. Commensurate with the EFA initiative, in 2003 the United Nations launched the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) to promote literacy for all—girls and boys, women and men, in both developing and developed countries, and to mobilize the international community. The Literacy Decade recognizes the deep connection between literacy and economic sustainability, health, and peace in a globalized world. As its cornerstone, the UNLD established the Literacy Initiative For Empowerment (LIFE) effort--empowering learners through country-led practice, informed by evidence-based research in 35 countries with a literacy rate of less than 50% or population of more than 10 million without literacy competencies. These two initiatives—EFA and UNLD—form the basis for the GUCCHD engagement in the global literacy agenda.

In 2005 the GUCCHD began its global literacy work by marking the reentry of the United States into UNESCO through a major conference hosted jointly by Georgetown University and UNESCO: The United States, UNESCO, and Education For All: Calling Higher Education to a Higher Calling. First Lady Laura Bush and Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General, were the featured speakers for this inaugural event in the United States.

At this conference, a consortium of universities to support the global literacy agenda was first conceived but it was, as a result of the White House Conference on Global Literacy in 2006, that the Consortium took its final shape. The consortium was formed as an interest group of the higher education community to provide a forum for institutions of higher learning to engage more deeply with each other, with UNESCO, and with related organizations. Its mandate is to foster a dialogue among interested institutions in order to promote sound EFA and UNLD policy and practice with a special emphasis on literacy. The network is designed to encourage colleges and universities to build relationships and share research and training expertise with each other and with those countries struggling to achieve improved literacy outcomes. The higher education community offers a unique capacity to work with developing nations and nations that are at risk for failing to achieve the target EFA and LIFE goals.

Importantly, as a result of the White House Conference on Global Literacy, the consortium took, as its work, to collaborate with UNESCO in the six regional conferences (Qatar, Mali, China, India, Azerbaijan, and Mexico) that followed in order to develop and expand the network. Through these regional literacy conferences, a network of over 125 academic enterprises has been identified to collaborate around capacity building, curriculum development, literacy mentoring programs, technical assistance to UNLD and EFA, and a research agenda emphasizing policymaker needs. Currently, the Consortium has been incorporated into the activities of the Expert Committee for the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) and the portfolio of the UNESCO literacy division. GUCCHD, through it director, serves as the International Coordinator for the network’s activities. The Director of the GUCCHD also has been designated as a UNESCO Chair, an honor that directly connects the university’s global literacy initiatives with the UNESCO goals.

Publications and Products
  • Conference Proceedings. (2005). Education for all: Calling Higher Education to a Higher Calling. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University.
Contact Information

Phyllis R. Magrab, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Child and Human development
Professor, Pediatrics

Core Funding

Verizon Foundation