“Equal Right Equal Opportunity: Education and Disability” is the theme of this year’s Global Action Week. The campaign aims to raise awareness of how a disability can seriously harm a child’s chances of going to school and learning.
As we outlined in the 2013/4 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, there are still 57 million children out of school and 250 million who are not learning the basics, whether they are in school or not. A principal reason for this is that efforts to improve education have failed to reach those who already face disadvantages.
Children living with disabilities make up a significant proportion of those who are prevented by disadvantage from getting to school and learning, along with girls, the poor, those who live in rural areas, and those from ethnic or linguistic minorities. That’s why education and disability is the focus this year of Global Action Week, organized by the Global Campaign for Education.
Global Action Week, one of the major focal points for the global education movement, highlights one area of the Education For All agenda each year to encourage targeted efforts to achieve change on the ground.
The 2010 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Reaching the marginalized, demonstrated clearly that disabilities affect children’s changes of going to school, and their ability to learn while there. The report found that in Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania, for instance, having disabilities doubled the probability of children never having attended school. In Burkina Faso it increased the risk of children being out of school by two and a half times.
Disabilities also make it less likely that a child will complete school. The 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report found that in 14 out of 15 low and middle income countries, people of working age with disabilities were about one-third less likely to have completed primary school.
Such education deficits have long-term detrimental effects on people’s lives. Globally, those with disabilities are much less likely to be working. Other family members may also have to stay home to care for them, missing out on work or school.
Worldwide, there is a lack of targeted programmes that address the disadvantages associated with disability. One reason is that concrete data on the scale of disability are scarce, so it is difficult or impossible to gauge the need for such programmes. Much more attention should be devoted to collecting data on disabilities and how they are related to education outcomes.
Using the limited data available, the 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report showed that different types of impairment have different impacts on the likelihood that a child will go to school. In Iraq, for instance, while 10% of those aged 6 to 9 with no risk of disability had never been to school in 2006, the same was true for 19% of those at risk of having a hearing impairment and 51% of those who were at higher risk of mental disability.
Such evidence shows that different policy responses are needed for different types of impairment, and that we need much better data if we are to ensure that all children, and especially the disadvantaged, go to school and learn.
Despite the data problems, it is clear that the scale of the problem is large and needs addressing urgently. Our latest report cites one estimate that 93 million children under age 14, or 5% of the world’s children, live with a moderate or severe disability. At all ages, the frequency of disability is higher in poorer than in rich countries, and is highest of all in sub-Saharan Africa.
As the 2015 deadline for the EFA goals approaches, this Global Action Week is a reminder not only that we need to step up efforts to make sure children living with a disability can go to school and learn; it is also a reminder that data gaps have concealed wide inequality and need to be bridged as a matter of urgency.
Ensuring that all people have an equal chance of going to school and learning, regardless of their circumstances, must be at the heart of the global post-2015 framework that will succeed the Education for All goals. That means making special efforts to reach the disadvantaged – including children living with a disability.