Studies across the world have found that children with disabilities are less likely to go to school than children without disabilities and are more likely to drop out (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1498; Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 26; Groce & Kett, 2014, p. 8; EFA, 2015, p. 101; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 206; UNICEF, 2013, p. 27; HRW, 2012, p. 10; Trani et al., 2011, p. 1198). For example, a study in Afghanistan found that the proportion of non-disabled children accessing school is almost twice as high as the proportion of children with disabilities (Trani et al., 2012, p. 352).
- Gender: Girls with disabilities are even less likely to receive an education than boys with disabilities (Trani & Loeb, 2012, p. S32; EFA, 2015, p. 101; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 206; Trani et al., 2011, p. 1198).
- Disability type: Children with physical impairments are generally more likely to be enrolled than those with intellectual or sensory impairments (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 207; Inclusion Intl., 2006, pp. 32-35; Trani et al., 2012, p. 355).
Some parents of children with disabilities say that without school, they have no choice but to lock up or tie up their children while they go to work or complete daily chores (HRW, 2012, p. 10). The paucity of data about children with disabilities means the ‘scale of the challenge is likely underestimated’ (EFA, 2015, p. 78).
Barriers to education
The reasons for the low educational levels of children with disabilities can include:
- inaccessible school buildings (e.g. multi-storey with no lifts, inaccessible toilets);
- limited communication modes (e.g. no materials in Braille);
- location, combined with lack of transport links;
- stigmatisation and bullying;
- lack of teacher confidence and training;
- low expectations of children with disabilities;
- prohibitive costs and inadequate resources; and
- policies that prevent inclusive education – e.g. special education is under the jurisdiction of ministries for health or social welfare rather than the ministry of education
(Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, pp. 27-28; Srivastava et al., 2015, p. 189; Groce & Kett, 2014, p. 7; Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, p. 1155; WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 212-216; UNICEF, 2013, pp. 26, 32, 36; HRW, 2012, p. 10, 13; Bruijn et al., 2012, p. 52; Trani et al., 2011, p. 1190; Burns et al., 2014, pp. 26-28).
Lack of access to education for children with disabilities has repercussions throughout their life. The well-established links between illiteracy or marginal literacy and poverty significantly increase the likelihood that they will raise their own children in poverty (Groce et al., 2011, p. 1498; Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, p. 1161; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 10; Barron & Ncube, 2010, pp. 12-13). Some estimate that literacy rates for adults with disabilities in developing countries are possibly as low as three per cent overall and one per cent for women with disabilities, although little attention is paid to this issue in the literature and the methodology is unclear (Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, pp. 1153, 1158-1159). Fifty per cent of people in India with mild to moderate disabilities are thought to be illiterate, which is still significantly low (Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, p. 1158). Despite these low literacy rates, some experts in development ‘clearly stated that the literacy needs of disabled adults were low priority – to be addressed only after literacy rates in the general population improved’ (Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, p. 1161). These adults with disabilities will find it difficult to break the links between disability and poverty (Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, pp. 1154, 1161).
In addition, exclusion from schools denies children with disabilities an opportunity for social networking and community participation, as well as all sorts of medical, social, nutritional and developmental resources, which can lead to isolation, decreased autonomy, and lower quality of life (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 34; Trani et al., 2011, p. 1200; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 205). Caregivers have a heightened risk of depression and limits on their own independence as a result of the increased dependency burden (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 34). Exclusion from mainstream education also helps propagate discriminatory attitudes at the societal level, creating further barriers to participation in other domains (Morgon Banks & Polack, 2014, p. 34; UNICEF, 2013, p. 27).
Debates over the type of education
There is debate about whether children with certain types of disabilities learn best in specialised schools or general classrooms (Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, p. 1154; WHO & World Bank, 2011, pp. 211-212).
A systematic review found a lack of evidence about the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of approaches to increasing inclusive education (Bakhshi et al., 2013, pp. 10, 34). However, the World Report on Disability noted that it is generally agreed that inclusive schools are more cost-effective than special schools (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 220).
Inclusive education has become part of the international agenda, partly running parallel to the objective of Education for All (EFA) (Srivastava et al., 2015, p. 179). It entails ‘providing meaningful learning opportunities for all students within the regular school system’ (UNICEF, 2013, p. 28). Strong and continuous leadership at the national and school levels is identified as one of the most important elements in an inclusive education system (WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 216). However, there is no universal definition of inclusive education, which causes difficulties in implementing coherent and sustainable programmes (EFA, 2015, p. 101; Bakhshi et al., 2013, p. 7; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 209).
Issues with implementation
Inclusive education is more than the presence of students with disabilities in schools, which will not automatically lead to positive academic or social outcomes (Srivastava et al., 2015, p. 190; WHO & World Bank, 2011, p. 233; Bakhshi et al., 2013, p. 6). However, many programmes have ended up at this minimum standard as a result of ‘lack of resources, teacher training and expectations, and expertise, as well as persistence of negative social attitudes leading to discrimination and exclusion’ (Bakhshi et al., 2013, p. 7). Inclusive education manuals to support teacher training should be grounded in the educational realities in low-income countries (Le Fanu, 2015, p. 273).
Lack of projects
In addition, one study found few projects on inclusion of students with disabilities (Srivastava et al., 2015, p. 189). Many estimates also indicate that inclusive education efforts are still not reaching 90 per cent of all children with disabilities in developing countries (Groce & Bakhshi, 2011, p. 1156; Srivastava et al., 2015, p. 189). There are concerns that the factors that helped implement inclusive education in Western countries may not be applicable in developing countries (Srivastava et al., 2015, p. 181; Le Fanu, 2015, p. 273).
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- Barron, T., & Ncube, J. M. (Eds.). (2010). Poverty and disability. London: Leonard Cheshire Disability.
- Bruijn, P., Regeer, B., Cornielje, H., Wolting, R., van Veen, S., & Maharaj, N. (2012). Count me in: Include people with disabilities in development projects – A practical guide for organisations in North and South. Veenendaal: LIGHT FOR THE WORLD. See document online
- Burns, D., Oswald, K., & the ‘we can also make change’ team. (2014). ‘We can also make change’: Piloting participatory research with persons with disabilities and older people in Bangladesh. Sightsavers, HelpAge International, ADD International, Alzheimer’s Disease International, & Institute of Development Studies. See document online
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- Morgon Banks, L., & Polack, S. (2014). The economic costs of exclusion and gains of inclusion of people with disabilities: Evidence from low and middle income countries. CBM, International Centre for Evidence in Disability, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. See document online
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