While many countries have made significant strides to meet the needs of children with intellectual disabilities, many others have not taken even the first steps. To this day, no nation has come close to achieving the widespread scale of truly inclusive classrooms and schools where children with intellectual disabilities are fully valued as members of their learning communities.
It is clear much work still needs to be done.
Children with disabilities are too often left behind
Over the past 30 years, governments and international organizations have sounded a millennial tone for the ideals of inclusive education, enshrining their goals in a series of international agreements. Yet despite widespread support for inclusive education policies, the actual change in education practices has fallen far short of delivering on the right to an inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
In the most recent and comprehensive effort to standardize and document such data, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that children with disabilities are nearly 50% more likely than their peers without disabilities to have never attended school, and that children with severe disabilities are almost four times more likely than their peers without disabilities to have never attended school.
Other sources indicate that in low- and middle-income countries, as many as half of all children with disabilities who are of primary and lower-secondary school age do not attend school, making them five times more likely to be out of school than their peers without disabilities—and this disparity only increases with education level.
Physical inclusion is not enough
As proclaimed by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, inclusive education is a right. But as demonstrated by child development experts around the world, social inclusion—both in and out of school—is a basic human need.
While many education systems have made strides in achieving integrated educational settings, the reality for many children with intellectual disabilities is that they continue to be marginalized and isolated. These disparities also negatively impact students without intellectual disabilities, for inclusive learning environments help ALL students.