Global Action Week in the East Asia and Pacific Region

This year’s Global Action Week (GAW) focuses on raising awareness of issues around disability. Under the slogan “Equal Right, Equal Opportunity: Education and Disability”, the East Asia and Pacific Regional (EAP) UNGEI is mobilizing its networks and partners in the region, by sharing promising practices and organizing activities geared towards raising awareness of education and disability.

© UNICEF/INDA2010-00284/JEAN MACFARLANE

Thirteen-year-old Buveneswari has learning difficulties. She is now being cared for at a home for children with special needs in Dharmapuri District in the state of Tamil Nadu, southern India.
© UNICEF/INDA2010-00284/JEAN MACFARLANE

More than one billion people around the world live with some form of disability. Of this figure, 93 million children under the age of 14 are living with a ‘moderate or severe disability’. Of these, 13 million, or 0.7 per cent of the world’s children, experience severe disabilities (GMR 2013/14).

In Asia and the Pacific alone, 650 million people live with disabilities (UNESCAP, 2012). 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 attend school, children with disabilities are more likely to drop out or leave school early. According to a recent scoping study by UNGEI (2013), girls living with disabilities are the worst off; they are among the most marginalized in education.

Due to societies’ misperception of different forms and types of disabilities and the limited capacity of social actors to accommodate special needs, people with disabilities are often marginalized, face inequalities in their daily lives, and have fewer opportunities to access a quality education in an inclusive environment. Disability is a human rights issue. The international development goals such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education for All (EFA) goals cannot be achieved without addressing disability.

Disability results from a range of social, economic, physical and attitudinal barriers that lead to the exclusion of people with disabilities from society. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes that disability is about the way society responds, what is often known as the ‘social model of disability.’ This contrasts with the medical model in which people with disabilities are viewed as ‘problems’ that need to be fixed. The whole philosophy of inclusive education is to embrace diversity and to respond to the needs of individual learners. It recognizes the right of children with disabilities to be educated in mainstream schools where the whole system has been changed to meet all children’s needs.

Children with disabilities are invisible from the policy discussions owing to lack of data. This constrains the ability governments to properly plan and provide services. The lack of data also hinders the work of the international community in terms of regular monitoring monitoring of the situation of people with disabilities. At times, there is under-reporting on the scale of disabilities. There is a need for quality research, data collection and monitoring in this area.

Girls with disabilities are disproportionately marginalized in societies where gender inequalities are persistent. The EAP UNGEI scoping study points to the lack of consideration of gender as a significant factor in policy or practice, highlighting the significant gender disparities in relation to gender and the education of children with disabilities.

Children with disabilities, especially girls, are less likely to enroll and complete primary school. According to the World Health Survey, 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. Children with disabilities are also more likely to be illiterate.

The Asia-Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities 2013-2022 was recently adopted in Incheon, Korea by ministers and representatives of members and associate members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The ministerial declaration provides an opportunity to develop a clearer focus on disabilities in the education sector in the region.

The Incheon Strategy to Make the Right Real for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific includes the goal (No. 5) of expanding early intervention and education of children with disabilities. It also includes two targets:

• Introduce systematic measures with universal coverage to identify infants and children with disabilities and provide them with timely rehabilitation and other support services; and
• Halve the gap between children with disabilities and children without disabilities in enrollment rates for primary and secondary education.

In Asia-Pacific, EAP UNGEI calls on governments to:
1. Improve data collection and analyses; contribute to developing internationally comparable research methodologies for collecting and analysing data related to persons with disabilities;
2. Create flexible and inclusive infrastructure and services, ensuring that teachers are properly trained;
3. Review and align policies and programmes with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
4. Share good practices; and
5. Include disability data in statistical publications.

To support countries, EAP UNGEI and EFA partners are working together to:
1. Monitor the implementation of the Right to Education;
2. Enhance the knowledge base and enable dialogue;
3. Support comprehensive stocktaking of education of children with disabilities and strengthen information and monitoring systems on marginalized groups;
4. Help countries build capacity for inclusion in education; and
5. Foster partnerships for advocacy and awareness raising to make education for people with disabilities more visible.

The 2014 GAW is a call to action. The time has come to put the education people with disabilities more centrally in the education development discourse and in practice.

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The East Asia and Pacific Regional UNGEI was launched in May 2002 and seeks to establish networks and partnerships among experts and organizations promoting education and gender rights. At country ...

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