Towards Inclusive Education: ensuring education access for all by 2030

August 9, 2016
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This blog post is a part of the UNGEI #YouthLeads blog series, running from August 8 – 12. For daily blog notifications follow us on twitter at @UNGEI.

Submitted by Joel Kawanguzi.

Despite the fact that the realization of universal education has been of prime interest to the international community since the 1940s, most children and youth with disabilities continue to be excluded from educational opportunities. Globally, enrollment and completion of primary and secondary education by youth with disabilities is extremely low, with my home country of Uganda being no exception. Although the Government of Uganda introduced inclusive education in 1997 through the introduction of the Universal Primary Education, only about 9% of school aged girls and boys with disabilities who attend primary school in Uganda – compared with a National average of 92% of their non-disabled counterparts[1]. Of the few children with disabilities which attend primary school, only 6% continue their studies into in secondary schools, compared to the national average of 25%)[2].  Access to education for children with disabilities is severely restricted in Uganda, impacting most significantly girls. Girls with disabilities who are in poor households based in rural areas are the least likely to ever attend school. Furthermore, girls with disabilities face the greatest risk of experiencing multiple factors of discrimination, which is particularly true for girls with intellectual or developmental disabilities[3]. 

Social and environmental barriers

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) initiated the concept of inclusive education in relation to promote second Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education (United Nations, 2000) and later Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet in the 10 years since the formation of the UNCRPD, there has been little progress in inclusive education for children and youth with disabilities. Many schools are still not equipped with necessary assistive devices and accessible structures. Schools that have no ramps and walkways provide the first barrier to inclusive education.

When basic school infrastructure such as latrines are not accessible and secure, children with disability, in particular girls, are unlikely to attend during adolescence. Amongst all vulnerable groups, girls with disability are the most vulnerable to gender-based violence. Studies have revealed that parents of girls with disabilities and girls themselves often cite safety and security constraints as a critical concern and a prime reason for withdrawing from school during adolescence[4]. Ensuring schools have functional, accessible, and separate WASH facilities for girls is essential for creating a safe and supportive school environment for girls and reducing risk of exposure to gender-based violence.

Provide students with the tools to succeed by integrating information technology

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests that up to 35%[5] of students including children and youth with disabilities require some form of special support to meet their individual learning needs during their school careers. Information technology connected schools which utilize a mix of assistive technologies (such as braille embossers, text to speech computer software, and recorders), are windows to opportunity for learners with disabilities. When assistive devices and technologies are not available to children with disabilities in the classroom they are unable to fully participate and communicate as a student in the classroom which leads to social exclusion, reduced educational opportunities, and poorer employment outcomes.

Training and resourcing teachers is key to implementing inclusive education

Teachers trained in how to implement a child-to-child and student centered approaches, are able to understand the value and tools of inclusive education, and are therefore more likely to implement these skills and strategies in the classroom for benefit of all students, and in particular, with disabilities. In rural schools the need for trained teachers is particularly high. Teachers based remotely are often those that are more likely to have a higher percentage of students with disabilities, yet they are often the last to be trained and are more frequently under resourced than teachers based regionally. Furthermore, teachers who have been trained in inclusive education are less likely to have discriminatory attitudes and misconceptions of students with disabilities.

Meaningful inclusion for all – toward 2030 education goals

Accessible education for children with disabilities does not begin and end with physically accessible infrastructure. Donors and governments must also invest in accessible materials and aids for students, inclusive curriculums and guidebooks for teachers, and follow-up teacher training to support teachers to effectively implement and support the inclusion of young learners with disabilities.

There is a great need to take appropriate steps to protect and ensure safe and equitable access to education for children and youth with disability, and in particular girls with disability – in full recognition of the specific and unique barriers that they face as girls. Only if we can take these steps towards full and meaningful inclusion of all learners with disabilities, will it be possible for us to achieve education equity for all girls and boys by 2030.


[1] UNICEF, (2014). ‘Research study on children with disabilities living in Uganda’. http://www.unicef.org/uganda/UNICEF_CwD_situational_analysis_FINAL.pdf
[2] Ibid
[3] WHO, (2011). ‘World Report on Disability’. http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/en/
[4] Leonard Cheshire Disability, (July, 2016). ‘Leave No Girl Behind!Lessons from Promoting Inclusive Primary Education for Girls with Disabilities in Nilphamari, Bangladesh’. http://media.wix.com/ugd/13d477_b900fb3daa0f49a783e0cf1211f2c167.pdf
[5] https://www.oecd.org/els/family/CO1%209%20Child%20disability%20FINAL.pdf

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About Joel
joel headshotAs a young person with a physical disability in Uganda, Joel is not only a youth advocate, he is also a leading disability rights advocate. In January 2013, Joel attained a bachelor’s degree in Adult and Community Education from Makerere University. In 2013, he furthered his advocacy specialization by completing a diploma in Organizational Management in Denmark – covering areas of disability sports, advocacy, fundraising, disability rights and social behavior.  In 2013, Joel was recognized for his disability youth advocacy leadership, and was provided Leadership Training under scholarship from Action Aid Denmark. Joel is also certified in Uganda Sign Language through the Uganda National Association of the Deaf. Joel is an experienced community based rehabilitation and inclusion program manager, and as such has worked toward the integration of disability in programs focused on peace building, justice and good governance, and comprehensive HIV prevention, care and treatment.  Joel has also held a representative position for the Uganda Society for Disabled Children (USDC) since 2012, during which time he has advocated for inclusive and adapted sports, inclusive curriculum development, and accessible latrines and other public infrastructure.

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