Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Education and Disability
In most low- and middle-income countries, children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children; even if they do attend school, children living with disabilities are often more likely to drop out and leave school early. In some countries, having a disability can more than double the chance of a child not being in school, compared to their non-disabled peers. It is, therefore, unsurprising that in many countries children with disabilities make up the vast majority of those out of school. For those children with disabilities who actually manage to enter classrooms, the quality and form of schooling received – often in segregated schools – can act to powerfully compound exclusion from the mainstream and confirm pre-existing societal notions about disability.
- In Malawi and Tanzania, a child with a disability is twice as likely to have never attended school as a child without a disability. In Burkina Faso, having a disability increases the risk of children being out of school by two and a half times.
- In Bolivia it is estimated that 95% of the population aged 6 to 11 years are in school, while only 38% of children with disabilities are – more than doubling the chances of not being in school.
- In Ethiopia, according to the Ministry of Education, fewer than 3% of children with disabilities have access to primary education, and access to schooling decreases rapidly as children move up the education ladder.
- In Nepal, 85% of all children out of school are disabled.
- Girls with disabilities fare even worse than boys. In Malawi one study showed that more girls with disabilities have never attended school compared to boys with disabilities. This translates into lower literacy rates as adults: for instance, national statistics in Ghana show that the literacy rate for non-disabled adults stands at 70%, which reduces to 56% for adults living with disabilities, and this drops to just 47% for women with disabilities.
- Italy is the only European country in which almost all disabled pupils (over 99%) were included in mainstream schools.
Tackling this severe discrimination is a matter of urgency on several counts. Firstly, this denial of the right to education robs children of the future benefits of an education and the opportunity to access other rights – for example, by limiting employment opportunities or participation in civic affairs later in life. It restricts full participation in society, exacerbating exclusion, and can limit a person’s chance of escaping poverty. This and other barriers faced by people living with disabilities means they are usually among the poorest of the poor.
GCE’s new report on education and disability synthesises current evidence around the scale of the challenge, highlighting levels of exclusion from education faced by children with disabilities, as well as outlining the common barriers faced in gaining access to a quality education. It also aims to set out the case for inclusive education systems, where children with disabilities are brought into mainstream schools, and classrooms and schools respond and adapt more effectively to their needs. Finally, the report summarises the policy responses which can help bring down the common barriers – from the family, local communities and national government, through to the international community – setting out clear set of areas of action and policy recommendations for governments, donors and the international community. The report was written with the support of GCE member, Handicap International.
GCE believes that a huge impact on the right of people with disabilities can be made through efforts by national governments to deliver the following 7 strategies:
- Create appropriate legislative frameworks and set out ambitious national plans for inclusion.
- Provide the capacity, resources and leadership to implement ambitious national plans on inclusion.
- Improving data and building accountability for action
- Making schools and classrooms accessible and relevant for all
- Ensure enough appropriately trained teachers for all
- Challenging attitudes which reinforce and sustain discrimination
- Create an enabling policy environment for inclusive education, through cross-sectoral interventions
These strategies must be supported by bilateral donors and the international community through development cooperation.
Bilateral donors must:
- Meet the long-standing commitment to allocate 0.7% of GNI to aid and allocate at least 10% of aid budgets to basic education, with a particular focus on supporting country plans in the lowest income countries.
- Ensure that aid supporting inclusive education, or targets that reduce disabled children’s exclusion, are commensurate with the needs and gaps for meeting the EFA and MDG targets.
- Ensure that aid supports the scaling up of national plans and does not add to fragmented and small scale efforts on inclusive education, while adhering to internationally agreed principles on aid effectiveness.
- Ensure that development assistance for education programmes, plans and polices includes support for inclusive education, and donor agency staff have the capacity and necessary understanding to support this.
- Strengthen and support the capacity of partner governments to address inclusion through planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
- Ensure all education programmes support learners with disabilities, with particular attention to those who are most marginalised or face multiple disadvantages, such as girls or children with higher levels of physical, or learning disability.
- Support partner governments to ensure adequate coordination amongst ministries and between government, civil society and other development partners, through processes such as the LEGs and other national policy planning forums.
The international community must:
- Build clear and measurable global targets for inclusive education and disability into the post 2015 agenda, ensuring that inclusive education is explicitly referenced within the post 2015 agenda.
- Prioritise the development of reliable data collection on education and disability (including according to type of disability and support needs) to enhance tracking and monitoring of progress on post 2015 goals.
- The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) must become a champion of inclusive education for children with disabilities. This would include ensuring sufficient expertise within the country support teams; the production of guidelines that could help improve the inclusion, including guidelines to support improved data collection; and the mainstreaming of inclusive education perspectives into assessment processes.
- GPE must work towards ensuring that Local Education Groups (LEGs) have genuine space for organisations which represent people with disabilities and DPOs.