The case is clear for financing inclusive education for children with disabilities

The new report #CostingEquity makes recommendations to improve inclusive education around the world

Rihanata in her classroom. Photo: Ulrich Eigner/Light for the World

Rihanata was just five years old when she contracted malaria.  The infection attacked her nervous system, leaving her unable to move. 

Her parents, who are from Taksenin, Burkina Faso, were devastated. They did not know what do.  They feared the worse: that Rihanata would not be able to attend school and that so many hopes for her childhood and future were lost forever.

The majority of children with disabilities are not in school

Their fears were not unfounded.

Rihanata at home. Photo: Ulrich Eigner/Light for the World

They are the most marginalized, excluded and forgotten-about group when it comes to education and life opportunity.Shockingly, children with disabilities in Burkina Faso are two and a half time less likely to go to school than children without disabilities (GCE, 2014). In fact, in countries all around the world at least half of the 65 million school-age girls and boys with disabilities are not in primary or lower secondary school.

Unless this group is reached, we will miss, by such an enormous and excruciating distance, our target to ensure ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ for all by 2030, as promised by the Sustainable Development Goals.

Not educating children with disabilities costs money

Low-income countries will also continue to lose billions of dollars of potential income: in Bangladesh, lack of schooling and employment for people with disabilities and their caregivers could be losing the country US$1.2 billion of income annually, or 1.74% of GDP (World Bank, 2008). 

Yet, as the new #CostingEquity report shows, the path to realizing the right to inclusive education for children and ensuring a system-wide reform is clear.

The report has been developed by the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC)—supported by Light for the World, Open Society Foundations and several other leading disability rights and development organizations.

It reaffirms that inclusive education—that is, quality learning opportunities for the vast majority of children within a mainstream system—is by far the most impactful, cost-effective and proven way forward.

Inclusive education removes learning barriers

It is the path that Rihanata was able to take in order to learn how to write with her left hand and eventually attend school alongside her other friends from the village. She is now one of the best students in her class.

Rihanata at the blackboard. Photo: Ulrich Eigner/Light for the World

Inclusive education can drastically reduce out of school populations; it can remove learning barriers for every child; it can tackle discrimination in society. 

Contrary to popular belief, evidence from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal and the Philippines shows that the return on investing in education for people with disabilities are two to three times higher than that of persons without disabilities (Lamichhane, 2014). 

In addition, investing wisely in early education avoids or reduces the considerable costs of special education, remedial teaching, medical treatment and improves learning outcomes for learners with disabilities significantly (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2008).

Much more needs to be done to support inclusive education

Yet despite this evidence, the #CostingEquity report finds that no-one is putting up the money, the research, the training or the time to coordinate system-wide change to empower children with disabilities to attend schools in classrooms alongside their non-disabled peers.

The situation is so bad that most governments do not collect data on children with disabilities and do not even feel the need to share how much they spend on school for children with disabilities; let alone whether those funds go into segregated or inclusive education.

Even among the world’s leading donor education agencies, the situation is far from what is needed, despite the growing interest in the field. Donor policies on paper are not yet having the desired impact on the ground and portfolio wide approach to implementing inclusive education is not yet evident. 

#CostingEquity therefore recommends that all existing and new staff, especially at country level, must be trained on the relevant policies and held accountable.    

Much needs to change, therefore, to ensure system-wide change.

Progress is possible within existing resources

So at a time when education finance is quite rightly on the development agenda, given alarming trends in global aid, it is crucial that the disability dimension is not forgotten. 

We need to see greater understanding of the fact that disability has a bigger impact on a child’s chances of receiving an education than even gender, location or household; and we need governments and donors to channel their finances accordingly.

Much progress can in fact be made using existing resources —without additional budget. For example, the content of already planned and budgeted teacher training can be strengthened by insisting that inclusive pedagogies and approaches are prioritized. 

Public demonstrations of political-will can also play a significant role in tackling stigma and encouraging action. One of the most promising inclusive education programs of Light for the World is in Burkina Faso; and this is in no small part due to the supportiveness of the chief of Garango, who has a son with a disability.

Governments must allocate additional financing to inclusive education

Still, it is clear that increased domestic financing is absolutely vital for achieving disability-inclusive education. Huge gains could be made on this front if governments, supported by donors, put an end to tax dodging.

Developing countries, those with the highest number of children with disabilities out of school, lose an estimated US$139 billion per year from harmful tax exemptions. 

In Tanzania, if used properly this tax revenue could cover the training of all untrained teachers plus 70,000 new teachers. It could build 97,000 accessible classrooms and it could provide every child ith reading and math textbooks.

In addition to stamping out tax dodging, the importance of earmarked taxes – that is, assigning revenue from specific taxes for disability-inclusive education – must not be underestimated.

Imagine how much could be achieved if we used the same approach to finance assistive devices and early intervention services for children with disabilities.  Or the turnaround effect, linking debt relief to enhanced spending on resources that promote equity in education for marginalized groups and improve services in related social sectors.

More data needs to be collected

Governments must also take deliberate steps, reinforced by the international community, to collect data on the number of children with disabilities in their countries, disaggregated by disability-type and other demographic markers, as well as data on environmental barriers. The absence of such data must no longer be used as an excuse for poor action.

Furthermore, the Global Partnership for Education is well placed to help develop a new financing window and facility for disability-inclusive education, to grow and attract additional financing and ensure that donor resources are better targeted. 

Rihanata and her peers going to school. Photo: Urlich Eigner/Light for the World

It must help provide the transformative guidance that countries need to make real progress in their planning, budgeting and practices via education sector planning technical support.

Finally, #CostingEquity calls on all donors to prioritize efforts to normalize disability-responsiveness as a core criterion in education funding across all portfolios, both with partner governments and with implementing contractors.

It says DPOs and NGOs working in disability-inclusive education must be fully engaged and represented at the heart of all education planning and monitoring processes and we must move away from the tokenistic engagement that is too often the case. 

The positive results of the power of civil society engagement was seen in Malawi, where the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education advocacy helped to increase funds to education for children with disabilities.

These recommendations respond to the enormous cost of exclusion from education, for individuals and for countries.

Let’s hope, for the tens of millions of children who—like Rihanata once did, face a lifetime shut out from society and opportunity—that governments and donors alike wake up to the urgency of the situation soon. 

This is needed if we want to accomplish real impact come 2030, with NO ONE LEFT BEHIND.

The CostingEquity summary report and upcoming related material can be found here:

Sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso


Senior Inclusive Education Advisor, Light for the World
Nafisa is the Senior Inclusive Education Advisor for LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, an international NGO promoting the rights of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in the poorest parts of the world....

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