This year’s State of the World’s Children report by UNICEF focuses on the many challenges that children with disabilities face in accessing their rights to school and other public services, and proposed solutions to ensure that students with disabilities can realize their full potential.
The report discusses the need to gather better data on children with disabilities. Many governments do not collect data on children with disabilities. Internationally recognized standards for disability are still being developed, and what is considered “normal” functioning can vary according to cultural values. Often reporting is left to parents, who may not have the knowledge they need to accurately diagnose their children, or may fail to report children with disabilities due to social stigma.
Despite the lack of accurate data, it is clear that a great number of children – as many as 93 million according to one global estimate from 2004 – require extra services and attention to access their full rights. The report identifies a number of challenges that students with disabilities face including the lack of adequate facilities, supplies and services necessary for learning. In a study of surveys in 51 countries by the World Health Organization, only 51% of boys with disabilities complete primary school, as opposed to 61% of all boys. The figures for girls were even more dismal: 42% of girls with disabilities completed primary school, instead of 53%.
The 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report discussed how disability leads to marginalization in education. In Burkina Faso, for example, children with disabilities were two and half times less likely to be in school than other children. The type of disability also affected the child’s likelihood to attend school: approximately 40% of children aged 7-12 with physical impairments attended school, compared with only 10% of children with hearing or speech impairments.
UNICEF’s report recommends a rights-based approach to help children with disabilities achieve their full potential. Here are some of the key recommendations related to education:
- Provide school facilities that encourage full participation for students with disabilities, such as wide ramps at entrances and accessible toilets and sanitation facilities.
- Ensure that students have access to necessary supplies and services to help with learning such as prosthetics, hearing aids and sign language interpreters.
- Integrate children with disabilities into schools and classrooms instead of separating them into different schools.
- Enhance awareness of disability among teachers and school administrators in order to fight discrimination.
UNICEF’s report provides an important reminder that learning is not simply a matter of getting children into classrooms, but also of ensuring that they can learn once they are there. Children with disabilities often need extra resources and attention in order to learn at school. We must ensure that these needs are provided so that children can access their basic human rights and become contributing members of society.