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States must include children with disabilities in education development plans


Advocacy | Inclusion | Laws | International | PUBLISHED ON September 13th 2022
Benfica Nova Primary School in Mozambique is an inclusive school – welcoming children with disabilities and with no disability. HI accompanies the teachers through specialized training.

Benfica Nova Primary School in Mozambique is an inclusive school – welcoming children with disabilities and with no disability. HI accompanies the teachers through specialized training. | © S. Roche / HI

The Transforming Education Summit will take place on 16-19 September at the United Nations headquarters in New York. On September 19, it will be attended by Heads of State and Governments to present their countries’ commitments to developing education or relaunching education plans after two years of COVID-related disruption.

There are almost 240 million children living with disabilities worldwide; many of them have no access to education. Currently working in 25 countries to promote and facilitate inclusive education for children with disabilities, HI is urging Head of States and the United Nations’ Secretary General Antonio Guterres to take these children into account in their education development plans and policies.

The Transforming Education Summit will be held from 16 to 19 September 2022 at the United National headquarters in New York. The last day of the Summit, Monday 19, will be dedicated to the Heads of State and Governments’ meeting, during which leaders will announce their plans and commitment to developing education at national level.

The Summit is expected to address the critical need for radical transformation of education systems in order to tackle issues of educational exclusion, safety and health (especially mental health). It is also expected to address the need for renewal of curricula and pedagogies and digital transformation for equitable and empowering learning, etc.

HI urges Heads of State and the United Nations’ Secretary General Antonio Guterres to include access to education for children with disabilities among their actions and commitments for dealing with the global crisis in education since the Covid pandemic.                                                            

The right to go to school

An estimated 32 million school-aged children with disabilities are out of school worldwide, roughly one-third of the global out-of-school population, according to the 2016 Education Commission report.

It’s not just access that should be transformed but also teaching and learning methods: Children with disabilities in low-and middle-income countries are 19% less likely to acquire basic reading skills than their peers without disabilities (UNESCO 2020). Global Education Monitoring Report)

Children with disabilities are excluded from the education system: 50% of children with disabilities in low-and-middle-income countries are still not enrolled in school. Only 42% of girls with disabilities complete their primary school education, compared to 51% of boys with disabilities (UNICEF). Children with sensory, physical or intellectual disabilities have a low school enrolment rate. They are two and a half times more likely not to attend school at all (UNESCO).

“The Transforming Education Summit is a crucial moment for the civil society to truly transform education, and make sure that the necessary changes and investments are put into place for all children including children with disabilities to access school and succeed in learning. We can make it possible that all children are able to access quality inclusive education. This summit is a chance to turn this around and make sure that no child is left behind.” Says Anne Héry, HI Director of Advocacy.

Barriers to education for children with disabilities

Here are just a few of the many factors limiting access to education for children with disabilities:

  • Many parents and community members have stigmatising attitudes towards children with disabilities, including traditional beliefs and practices. People often blame the children or their parents for their child’s disabilities or believe that disability is the result of a disease, or is a kind of punishment or curse.
  • Teaching practices are not sufficiently adapted to the needs of some children with disabilities. For example, teachers use traditional teaching techniques such as verbal repetition and asking students to copy written content from the board, without offering alternative options for children with visual or intellectual disabilities. Teaching materials like textbooks are often inadequate and not accessible for students who may not be able to see well for example. Teachers generally have had no training to be able to teach children with disabilities. For example, they may not think of  moving a student with visual impairments to the front row, and providing larger font formats, and may assume that a child is lazy or has  learning difficulties when in fact the child  can’t read the board. All of these obstacles must be overcome.
  • The school environment is often difficult to access (both getting to school and moving around the school premises) and teaching and learning materials are poorly adapted. Many schools remain inaccessible to students using   wheelchairs, for example. Schools often lack toilets and sanitary facilities adapted to the needs of children with physical or visual impairments. Classes do not always have enough natural light, which is problematic for children with visual impairments. School transport is generally not available, and when it is, it is seldom adapted to children with disabilities.

HI influencing the Summit

HI is involved in this summit and will be present in New York on 16-19th September. HI and partners lead the social-media campaign #DoYourHomework in order to call on national and global leaders to ensure that children and youth with disabilities are not left out of the Summit and its outcomes. HI has been involved in the organisation of the only side event specifically on disability-inclusion on Solutions Day (17 September),  which builds on a discussion paper supported by Julia McGeown, Head of Inclusive Education. Julia McGeown and HI Inclusive Education Policy Development Officer Casey Recabarren will be present at the Summit.

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