Children With Disabilities = Children Without Disabilities
This blog post originally appeared in the Education for All Blog of the Global Partnership for Education on 30 May 2013.
Today, UNICEF launches the 2013 State of the World’s Children Report. As we accelerate efforts towards realizing MDG 2 and achieving Education for All, the new report draws attention to a large segment of children who are not in school and have long remained invisible, hidden and forgotten: children with disabilities.
Children with disabilities are significantly less likely to be in school than their peers without disabilities. A 2004 study in Malawi found that a child with a disability was twice as likely to have never attended school as a child without a disability. The 2008 Tanzania Disability Survey found that children with disabilities are also 50 per cent less likely than their peers without disability to complete primary school and progress to higher levels of education.
The 2013 State of the World’s Children Report highlights the strong link between poverty and disability. Gender, health and employment issues can make poverty and exclusion even worse. For example, girls may become caregivers to their siblings with disabilities rather than attend school.
Children who are disabled are more likely to be poor and remain poor throughout their lifetimes, due to lack of education and job opportunities.
Ensuring that children with disabilities have access to inclusive and quality education is critical to reverse the cycles of poverty and exclusion.
Education needs to be inclusive and available to all children
The creation of inclusive education systems is fundamental for achieving universal education goals and realizing the human rights of ALL children. Inclusive education entails the provision of meaningful learning opportunities for all students within the regular school system. Ideally, it allows children with and without disabilities to attend the same classes at local schools, with additional, individually tailored support as needed.
Children with disabilities should not be segregated in the classroom, at lunchtime or on the playground.
Teachers and parents play key roles in supporting inclusive education. Studies reveal that teachers and principals with training in inclusive education had more positive attitudes and inclusive views than those who had not been trained . In many countries, schools have community committees that are engaged in a wide range of activities to support inclusion. In Vietnam, for example, Community Steering Committees have been involved in advocacy, local training, securing assistive devices, providing financial support and developing accessible environments for children with disabilities.
Call to action
- The 2013 State of the World’s Children Report provides a strong call for action. Some of the key actions that need to be taken include:
- Promoting inclusive education for children with disabilities at all levels, including early childhood education, to support the practice and culture of inclusion across education systems.
- Building or retrofitting schools that are accessible for disabled children should be a universal design criterion. Inclusive education requires physical, communicational, informational and attitudinal barriers to be eliminated.
- Ensuring curricula and learning materials, processes and assessments are accessible to all.
- Training teachers and providing orientation to foster a commitment to inclusion across schools and communities.
- Collecting data about disability to fill gaps and monitor progress on the education of children with disabilities.
- Supporting Ministries of Education to take responsibility for educating all children, including those with disabilities, through an inclusive system.
What UNICEF is doing
At UNICEF, we believe that equity in education is a right in principle as well as in practice. Inclusive education is central to our equity agenda and promotes meaningful learning opportunities to all children, including those with disabilities, within regular schools.
- In Nicaragua, UNICEF has helped restructure the national teacher training system to ensure that teachers have the skills and knowledge to address the needs of children with disabilities.
- In Vietnam, UNICEF successfully campaigned to improve the legal framework for children with disabilities in the education system.
- As part of the global initiative on out-of-school children, UNICEF has helped develop a methodology for tracking out-of-school children with disabilities. Field tests have been conducted in Cambodia.
- In Bangladesh, UNICEF provided technical support to the Directorate of Primary Education to start a national media campaign on inclusiveness, aiming to address gaps in awareness and changing mind sets. These radio programmes reached an estimated 20 million people.
- UNICEF has also been supporting innovative ideas to reduce barriers to education that children with disabilities face. In Eritrea, the “Donkey for School Project,” implemented by the national government and UNICEF, provided families of children with disabilities in rural areas (especially hard-to-reach girls) with a donkey to transport their children to school. The project improved overall attendance and fewer children with disabilities dropped out of school. As a result of the project, about 85 per cent of children with disabilities were attending school.
We would also like to acknowledge and applaud the Global Partnership for Education Board for the recent approval of their implementation plan that includes a specific outcome on the access of children with disabilities to inclusive and quality learning. Together, by providing an inclusive education to all, we can break the cycle of poverty and ensure that these children do not remain invisible. Through this, they will be qualified for better jobs, experience social and economic security, and have greater opportunities for full participation as equal and rightful members of society.
To read The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities and see additional multimedia material, please visit: http://www.unicef.org/sowc2013
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 Praisner, Cindy L., Attitudes of Elementary School Principals toward the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities, Exceptional Children, vol. 69, no. 2, 2003, pp. 135–145; Shade, Richard A., and Roger Stewart, General Education and Special Education Preservice Teachers Attitudes towards Inclusion, Preventing School Failure, vol. 46, no. 1, 2001, pp. 37–41 quoted in UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities, UNICEF, New York.