Washington, D.C. 24 January 2023 – Today, on International Day of Education, Special Olympics International called on governments around the globe to allocate three percent of education budgets to implement programs which promote social inclusion in schools and fully integrate students with intellectual disabilities (ID). Young people with ID are among the most marginalized demographics in the world and remain underserved by education systems globally. International Day of Education is observed every year on 24 January to celebrate the role of education for peace and development. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the day as International Day of Education on 24 January 2018.
“People with intellectual disabilities represent three percent of the population. Allocating three percent of education budgets to develop programs that increase social inclusion is an indisputably fair and logical starting point for governments to support this programming. Doing anything less makes no sense. This allocation will lead to more inclusive schools and more inclusive societies.”
To help rally government commitments and build truly inclusive classrooms and communities the world over, Special Olympics is convening a Global Leadership Coalition for Inclusion, funded by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). In the coming months, this alliance of government leaders will develop an agenda of inclusive strategies in education and child welfare, and push for the policies and financing needed to make inclusion happen.
According to Special Olympics, one of the best instruments for social inclusion is a good education. While many countries have made strides to meet the educational needs of children with intellectual disabilities, many others have not taken even the first steps. By engaging heads of state and other government officials around the world, Special Olympics will continue to advocate for increased educational funding to support the practical steps needed to fully include all students as valued members of their school communities.
“No nation has come close to achieving the widespread scale of truly inclusive classrooms and school communities: where children with intellectual disabilities experience social inclusion, where schools go beyond physical inclusion to create accessible and meaningful learning settings for all, and where students with disabilities are valued as full members of their school communities. Unified Champion Schools are not the only path to social inclusion, but the model is tested, effective and ready to use. We are making inclusive classrooms a reality in our Unified Champion Schools program, which serves over one million students in 152 countries and jurisdictions. We urge governments to partner with us to advance true social inclusion in the classroom.”
Unified Champion Schools reap a cascade of benefits. In Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, India, Thailand, Rwanda and Mongolia, schools have improved student grades and teacher confidence. According to data in Greece, students without intellectual disabilities were more than nine times more likely to say they could learn from people who are different from them. In India and Kenya, more than 90 percent of students without intellectual disabilities reported a mindset more accepting of those with differences.
Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® (UCS) facilitates opportunities for students with and without ID to learn and work together in collaborative, goal-oriented environments. Students who participate in UCS feel more supported by their teachers and peers, receive better grades, and are more empathetic and compassionate. Ultimately, UCS supports the educational outcomes that governments and policymakers hope to achieve.
Through investments in the transformative power of social inclusion in schools, governments can make meaningful progress on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD) and support the full achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs).
Full Organizational Statement—International Day of Education 2023
As people with intellectual disabilities constitute approximately 3 percent of the population, Special Olympics calls on all governments to allocate 3 percent of their education funding to high-quality, evidence-based inclusionary practices that fully integrate students with intellectual disabilities into school communities. Mere physical inclusion is not enough. Full inclusion in education requires a commitment to social inclusion — turning isolated students into teammates, partners, allies, friends. The need is great and the time to act is now.
According to the United Nations, most member countries of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD) are not on track to ensure an “inclusive and equitable quality education” for all by 2030. Through an investment in the transformative power of social inclusion in schools, governments can make meaningful progress on implementation of the UN-CRPD and support the full achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) on behalf of one of the most marginalized demographics in the world today.
Our Unified Champion Schools programming uses the power of sport to break down the walls of exclusion and segregation and promote educational, social, and recreational inclusion. Our view is simple, and our focus is clear: if we teach children to play together, they can learn, grow, and ultimately live together. By engaging heads of state and other government officials around the world, Special Olympics will continue to advocate for increased educational funding to support the practical steps needed to fully include all students as fully valued members of their school communities.
Tim Shriver's Op-Ed in Euronews
Global State of Inclusion in Education: A Review of the Literature
Our Chairman, Dr. Timothy Shriver, repeats this call to action.
About Special Olympics
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Unified Sports partners in over 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedInand our blog on Medium. Learn more at www.SpecialOlympics.org.