Humanity & Inclusion (HI) defends the inclusion of children with disabilities in education. The organization is a key contributor of this year’s report on education by UNESCO.
Can you explain the purpose and the importance of the report?
UNESCO publishes a report on education every year, monitoring the progress of education policies in each country, and makes recommendations to states and all institutions involved in education. This year, the report focuses on inclusion in the wide sense: inclusion of the poorest, of children from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, etc. Based on our experience in 27 countries where HI teams manage inclusive education projects, we added important contributions on inclusion of children with disabilities.
As 90% of pupils and students in the world have experienced disruption to their education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation of children with disabilities has worsened; distance learning is often inaccessible to them. They have also been cut off from other important services (health, nutrition, psychosocial support, protection…) which are available through schools.
Are many children with disabilities still out of school?
Almost 25% of the billion children in the world are still out of school. Among them, at least 50% of children with disabilities are excluded from education, in low and middle income countries. In some contexts the figure is closer to 90%.
Why so many children are still excluded from school?
They face many barriers: challenging journeys to school from the mountainous terrain of rural areas which are inaccessible even for wheelchairs, busy roads of capital cities, lack of accessible transport, etc. Once in school, teachers are generally not trained and have no support to be able to adapt the curriculum to children with different types of disabilities. As such, children with disabilities often do not have the opportunity to learn even the basics, and few are able to reach higher levels of education and training.
What about peoples’ attitudes towards children with disabilities?
There are still many prejudices about children with disabilities: people may think they are different, that they have been born with a disability due to a curse on the family, that they are unable to learn… The result is that in 25 countries highlighted in the report, for example, the adult literacy rate for those with a disability is much lower than it is for other adults, varying from only a 5% difference in Mali to a 41% difference in Indonesia.
Are states making effort to develop inclusive education systems?
We see a lot of progress. But in many countries, it is still very difficult. No school in Burundi and Niger has adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities, for example. Many countries seem to be indifferent to the reality for many children with disabilities and do not take their needs into account when planning policy. And when policy is put in place, it is not always in favor of truly inclusive education: Laws in 25% of countries provide for education in separate settings, with percentages exceeding 40% in Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is exclusion, not inclusion. We are engaged in many discussions with states to make them more aware of the importance of inclusion, and also to dedicate more funding to this issue.
What does HI want?
We want children to learn at school with other children as much as possible, and not in separate or special schools. We want teachers to be able to adapt their teaching methodology to support children with disabilities. We want buildings with access ramps for children who are wheelchair users, accessible toilets, tactile markings and handrails to support children with visual disabilities. We want teaching and learning materials to be adapted, providing visual timetables and easy to read communication books using simple picture symbols, to support children with intellectual disabilities. We want people with disabilities to spearhead the dialog about what needs to change. We want governments to allocate more of their foreign aid to enable children with disabilities to go to school.