SDG 4 aims to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. But too often, children with disabilities are not part of the “for all” statements: they are at higher risk to be left behind. According to survey results by the Washington Group on Disability statistics, people with disabilities over 15 years of age are 2 to 3 times more likely to never attend school.
There are limited data on children with disabilities, resulting in a poor understanding of how many of them are out of school, the reasons for their absence, and the barriers they face.
Collection of data around disability is impeded by a myriad of factors, such as differences in definitions of disability and data collection methodology, as well as data collection instruments. Different countries use different instruments to collect data, resulting in varied prevalence reporting trends across countries.
Missing data means more exclusion for children with disabilities
Data collection issues are further compounded by factors like social attitudes and bias while reporting. This can lead to underreporting, with individuals perceiving their situation, or that of a member of their household, as not severe enough to be considered a disability and/or unwillingness of parents to provide information regarding their child and disability due to stigmatization. In addition to this, teachers need specialized training to recognize not only physical “visible” disabilities but also, cognitive, “less visible” conditions.
Furthermore, millions of children with disabilities are left out of the education sector due to insufficient and/or outdated data systems and a lack of knowledge on how they can be effectively included in education sector planning and implementation.
Concerns regarding scarcity of data with respect to children with disabilities have been stated time and again. This lack of data further reinforces exclusion and acts as a significant barrier to educational access, participation, and achievement.
The Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children highlights the relationship between poor data, invisibility, and barriers to education for children with disabilities.
Study on what GPE partner countries are doing in inclusive education
A recent study by GPE on disability and inclusive education in GPE partner countries documents progress. It highlights the need to step up support to partner countries on disability and inclusive education, and improve consideration of issues around disability and inclusion in education sector analysis and planning processes. This will help promote the achievement of GPE 2020 Strategic Goal 2, and to fulfill the transformative vision of Agenda 2030.
This means ensuring that girls and boys with disabilities are not only able to access their right to a quality education in a nurturing environment, but also, through education, become empowered to participate fully in society, and enjoy full realization of their rights and capabilities.
Disability data are crucial
Data are imperative at every level of an education system to:
- inform robust sector analysis and planning
- support equitable resource allocation
- create and manage efficient budgets
- implement and monitor inclusive policies and programs
- serve as an evaluative tool for policy dialogue and reform efforts to enhance the equity, efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of education services.
Countries in the study identified the need for robust, reliable data regarding the education of children with disabilities as a high priority. Twenty-nine out of the 51 countries include an estimated percentage or number of children with disabilities enrolled at any level in the school system; 22 countries report primary school enrollment data, while 13 countries report special school enrollment data. Twelve countries include in their education sector plans data disaggregated by disability domain (such as mobility, cognition, sight, hearing, and communication). Data are cited from a range of sources, spread over many years.
The key barriers to education for children with disabilities
The lack of robust data on disability is most commonly cited as a key barrier, with 15 developing country partners identifying the lack of good, reliable data on children with disabilities as the greatest barrier to providing access to quality education.
The second-most cited barrier is a widely held negative attitude toward people with disabilities, and discriminatory attitudes toward children with disabilities.
To address the issue of data, a new UIS-GPE collaborative effort aims to improve data collection on children with disabilities by helping countries include information on disability in their routine data collection.
This work will assess how the conventions of the Washington Group could be applied to administrative data collection on disability in education management information systems (EMIS).
The Washington Group questionnaire is designed to identify people with disabilities, defined as difficulty performing universal activities such as seeing, hearing, walking etc. The questionnaire is not designed to be used in isolation but rather is included within other survey instruments.
Using administrative data to measure disability prevalence
The goal of the UIS-UNESCO-GPE collaboration will be to assess if and how disability can be included in EMIS, based on administrative data routinely collected by countries through school censuses.
The first step will be a review and analysis of the UIS current catalogue of school questionnaires and whether disability data is being collected, with a focus on GPE countries.
Special attention will be given to:
- Identification of children with disabilities,
- Existing infrastructure and learning materials for children with disabilities
- Assessment of the extent to which the Washington Group questions can be applied to administrative data collection on disability in education, such as the education management information systems (EMIS),
- Assessment of the possibility of including disability disaggregated data in UIS’ annual survey.
The study will help countries collect administrative data on children with disabilities, overcoming the first barrier of identifying the children not included in education.
Once countries have accurate data on children with disabilities, they will have an evidence base to inform consideration of issues around disability and inclusion in education sector analysis and planning processes, which will better promote the achievement of SDG 4 and fulfill the transformative vision of Agenda 2030. Education that is really for all.