We need more data on children with disabilities to ensure no one is left behind

A new GPE working paper highlights the gaps in household survey data about children with disabilities, which precludes their full inclusion in education systems. The authors propose four recommendations to better collect and use household survey data on disability.

September 14, 2022 by Stuart Cameron, Global Partnership for Education Secretariat
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4 minutes read
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Teacher Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh instructs 8-year-old deaf student Dam Thi Minh Nguyet during a math lesson. Vietnam. October 2020. Credit: Huynh Cuong/World Bank
Teacher Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh instructs 8-year-old deaf student Dam Thi Minh Nguyet during a math lesson. Vietnam. October 2020.
Credit: Huynh Cuong/World Bank

Children with disabilities in developing countries are less likely to access education and to achieve basic learning outcomes than children without disabilities.

In 2015, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, countries committed to ensure equal access to education for persons with disabilities by 2030. What progress have the world, and GPE partner countries in particular, made since then?

Unfortunately, no one knows. Reliable, consistent statistics on access to education among children with disabilities have been scarce in lower-income countries.

Collecting data on disability to better understand inclusion

Household surveys and censuses that collect reliable, comparable data on disability among children, as well as on their access to education, are essential to understand inequalities in access between children with disabilities and those without.

Disaggregating data in this way is a commitment made by GPE and many other international organizations and governments at the 2022 Global Disability Summit. It is also a key recommendation of the consultations surrounding the Transforming Education Summit in order to make schools more inclusive and equitable.

Household data of this kind is an important complement to data from schools as part of an inclusive education management information system (EMIS).

A new working paper describes the extent to which such data is available in GPE partner countries. In the past, disability was often viewed through the lens of a ‘medical model’ as being the result of a disease or injury, and often classified with demeaning or stigmatizing labels.

Today, surveys increasingly use two ‘best practice’ standards for asking about disability, both developed by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics: the Washington Group Short Set on Functioning (WG-SS), and the Child Functioning Module (CFM, jointly developed with UNICEF).

These questions focus on the things that individuals can do and achieve within their social and physical context, with and without the forms of assistance such as hearing aids or glasses that may be available to them. This reflects a better understanding of what disability is, and results in more reliable, nuanced and meaningful data being gathered.

Not enough surveys and censuses to collect disability data

During 2010–2020, at least 98 nationally representative surveys or censuses across 54 GPE partner countries collected data on disability in some form, and the number of countries with recent data using comparable and reliable questions has been steadily increasing.

Most have some data on education and disability, but 28 countries still have no nationally representative, reliable and comparable survey or census data that could be used to provide disability-disaggregated statistics on access to education.

Only half of partner countries have baseline statistics from around 2015, the beginning of the SDG period. And few have statistics for more than one year that would make it possible to track progress over time.

Figure caption: Increasing numbers of GPE partner countries collect reliable, comparable data on disability
Figure caption: Increasing numbers of GPE partner countries collect reliable, comparable data on disability.

4 recommendations to make progress

Our working paper makes four recommendations for GPE partners to produce the disability-disaggregated statistics that are needed for governments to advance inclusive education, as well as for development partners to hold each other to account:

  1. Monitor disability data availability to raise awareness around the need for more and better data. GPE partner countries are starting to do this as part of a wider analysis of the enabling factors for system transformation.
  2. Advocate for household surveys and censuses with a standard disability module, especially in countries that do not have any nationally representative and comparable sources.
  3. Support analysis of globally comparable disability-disaggregated statistics. With support from GPE, UNICEF, the World Bank and other partners, researchers have already used the recent data described in this paper to produce estimates of access and completion for children with disabilities, finding large gaps in access between children with disabilities and those without, and that most out-of-school children with disabilities have never enrolled in school.
  4. Support citizen-led assessment organizations such as the PAL Network and ASER Pakistan, that are already collecting disability data in some countries and helping to hold governments to account.

Since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, many countries have planned new surveys with support from the DHS program or UNICEF’s MICS. Sustained attention from all education actors will be needed to maintain these efforts so we can finally start to understand whether education systems in lower-income countries are truly becoming more inclusive.

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