Global Education Summit: what did Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign call for?

Sightsavers, August 2021

On 28 and 29 July, global leaders from more than 80 countries gathered in London at the Global Education Summit to discuss financing the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

The pandemic has created an unprecedented global health crisis, but it has also exacerbated the global learning crisis and the existing inequalities for children with disabilities – especially girls.

The Global Education Summit (GES), and the G7 Summit in June that preceded it, have been the focus of our Equal World campaign, which calls for disability rights to be upheld worldwide.

What did Sightsavers call on global leaders to do?

Through our Equal World campaign, our call has not only been for adequate financing for education (through aid as well as domestic financing at a country level), but also for financial pledges to be unpinned by policy commitments on equity and equality that ensure the rights of children with disabilities are fulfilled and they are included in education so no child is left behind.

An estimated 33 million children were out of school before the pandemic. As Sightsavers’ global technical lead for inclusive education, Liesbeth Roolvink, wrote in her blog hosted on the GPE website: “Building a truly inclusive education system is the only way to respond effectively to the current learning crisis and to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all children and learners, wherever and whoever they are.”

How did we take action?

21,526 people from 119 countries backed our campaign by signing our open letter that called on global leaders to meet their commitments on inclusive education for children with disabilities.

Through 15 Sightsavers country offices, with the support of disability organisations and other civil society partners, we called on national governments participating at the Summit to ensure children with disabilities were included in their commitments.

Some of the key highlights included:

  • Kenya: Sightsavers’ senior programme officer on education Charles Odol participated in a national level policy dialogue round-table to engage governments on education financing and budgets, including inclusive education.

  • Bangladesh: Sightsavers Bangladesh’s country director, Amrita Rejina Rozario and programme manager, Syeda Asma Rashida featured as part of a talk show on GTV, a popular national TV station, in which the deputy minister for education acknowledged the disability inclusion gap in education.
  • Pakistan: We received endorsement of the Equal World campaign by the federal minister for education and he met with Sightsavers’ CEO, Caroline Harper, in London ahead of the Summit. Federal minister Shafqat Mahmood emphasised the inclusive education for children with disabilities and said that the government of Pakistan will support institutions to provide quality education for children with disabilities.
  • Nigeria: Our colleagues in Sightsavers’ Nigeria office engaged with government officials, including the deputy governor of Kaduna state, on disability inclusion. Read more about our campaign in Nigeria.

Alongside some of our partners, we participated in two side events that looked at different aspects of the education experience. One considered the challenges to learning that are experienced by girls with disabilities and the second looked at ensuring that young children with disabilities access early childhood education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first side event, on gender-responsive and disability-inclusive quality education for all, featured Tiangay Gondoe, Sightsavers’ programme manager in Sierra Leone and Gertrude Oforiwa Fefoame, Sightsavers’ organisational spokesperson on social inclusion and member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The second side event, Reopening the future – Prioritizing pre-primary education featured Ben Chikaipa, Sightsavers’ project coordinator in Malawi.

A young girl smiles as she stands in a classroom.

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Did global leaders step up to the mark at the Global Education Summit?

On financing: ultimately, no. Governments failed to meet the US$5 billion target that the GPE set out to achieve. It is worth noting this figure is only a small amount of what is required to fund the overall education financing gap.

On equity for children with disabilities: While there were some positive commitments, the GES was disappointing, particularly as few donor governments recognised the intersecting barriers experienced by children with disabilities and made specific commitments to promote their inclusion.

As Sightsavers’ deputy CEO Dom Haslam said after the summit: “While there were some promising commitments to disability from countries including Tanzania and Malawi, the lack of specific commitments from others shows that disability inclusion is still being sidelined.”

What’s next?

The fight for the right to education for all children with disabilities continues. Investing in inclusive education doesn’t just benefit children with disabilities, it makes education stronger for everyone.

Ahead of the Global Disability Summit taking place in Oslo in February 2022, governments have an opportunity to put people with disabilities at the heart of their agendas to build back better and more equally – not just in education, but in all areas of life. Alongside partners and people with disabilities, we call on governments to realise just how urgent this situation is and to take the chance to fulfil their promises in the Sustainable Development Goals to build back better and make sure no one is left behind.

You can join us by signing up to the Equal World campaign.

“Investing in inclusive education doesn’t just benefit children with disabilities, it makes education stronger for everyone”


Ross McMullan is Sightsavers’ global campaigns manager, Liesbeth Roolvink is global technical lead for education systems, and Hannah Loryman is head of policy.


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