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Children with disabilities still excluded from school


In the run-up to World Children’s Day 2022 on 20 November, HI is calling attention to the high number of children still excluded from school because of their disability.

© J.McGeown / HI

HI is working in 25 countries to promote and facilitate inclusive education for children with disabilities.

There are almost 240 million children living with disabilities worldwide, many of them have no access to education - an injustice that HI is committed to overcoming.

The right to go to school

In many situations, children with disabilities have no access to education. Children who use wheelchairs, for example, can’t get to school without accessible transport and they can’t enter the classroom without a ramp.  For children with physical disabilities, it is almost impossible to spend a whole day at school without an adapted toilet.

Transforming teaching and learning

Transforming education means adapting teaching methods. Sometimes simple adaptations can make a huge difference. HI advises teachers to seat children with hearing loss at the front of the class and to speak clearly, facing the students, to allow them to follow what is being said and understand the lesson. It also means providing suitable materials. For children with vision impairments, HI provides braille tablets or adapted large print books.

Staggering statistics

Fifty percent of children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries are still out of school. The gender gap is enormous: only 42% of girls with disabilities complete their primary school education, compared to 51% of boys with disabilities (UNICEF). Children with visual, hearing, physical or intellectual disabilities are two and a half times more likely not to attend school at all (UNESCO).

“Every child needs a teacher. Every child has the right to education. Children with disabilities are denied this right. Many parents don’t send their children with disabilities to school as they feel the need to protect them. Many parents would like to send their children, but fear that they wouldn’t be accepted by the school and by the community as a whole, that they would be ridiculed and bullied. People sometimes think that because they have a disability, there is no point in sending them to school, that they are unable to learn, especially if they know the schools don’t know how to adapt to them. So many prejudices drive children with disabilities out of school, jobs and society and keep them in poverty. They are excluded. HI has been fighting against this injustice and for the inclusion of children with disabilities for almost 25 years. In more than 25 countries, we are training teachers and other school staff, adapting teaching, learning materials and school buildings, working with families, health professionals and other services such as rehabilitation, and lobbying authorities so that children with disabilities can go to school and build a future like all the other children. 

Julia McGeown, Head of Inclusive Education at HI.

Barriers to education for children with disabilities

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

  • Societies often have stigmatising attitudes towards children with disabilities. Because of traditional beliefs and practices, people often blame the children or their parents for the disability or believe that it 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 ask 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 inaccessible for students who may not be able to see well, for example. Teachers generally have limited or no training in teaching children with disabilities. For instance, they may not think to provide larger font formats placed on the desk directly in front of a student with a visual impairment, and may assume that a child is lazy or has learning difficulties when in fact he or she can’t read the board.
  • The school’s physical environment is often difficult to access (both getting to school and moving around the 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 vision impairments. Classes do not always have enough natural light, which is problematic for children with vision impairments. School transport is generally not available, and when it is, it is not adapted to children with disabilities.

All of these obstacles must be overcome.

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