The World Health Organisation and the World Bank estimate that one billion people experience some form of disability. Of those, it is estimated that 93 to 150 million are children.
According to Plan International these children are 10 times less likely to go to school than other children and when they do attend school, it is likely to be in a segregated setting. The Global Partnership for Education estimates that 90% of children with disabilities in low and lower-middle income countries do not go to school. In 2016 the UN reported that less than half of the world’s six million refugee children were in school whilst in a report on the education of Syrian refugee children, Human Rights Watch identified that refugee children with disabilities faced particular and ongoing barriers to school enrollment.
Historically, children with disabilities have been excluded from the general education system and placed in ‘special schools’. In some cases, they are separated from their families and placed in long-term residential institutions where they are educated in isolation from the community, if they are educated at all. Both practices persist in many regions, for example, Eastern Europe has the highest number of institutionalised children in the world and a child with a disability is almost 17 times more likely to be institutionalised than other children (UNICEF, 2012).
Children with disabilities have very low rates of initial enrollment. Even if they do attend school, children with disabilities are more likely to drop out and leave school early without transitioning to secondary school and beyond (GCE, Equal right, equal opportunity report, 2014). Children with disabilities are also at increased risk of school violence and bullying, preventing the safe enjoyment of their right to education (UNESCO, School violence and bullying: Global status report, 2016).
These facts and figures reflect the impact of the significant ongoing barriers to education faced by many people with disabilities, which include:
- lack of accessibility, both in terms of physically inaccessible school buildings and unsuitable learning materials
- discrimination and prejudice which prevents people with disabilities from accessing education on equal terms to others
- exclusion or segregation from mainstream school settings (also referred to as ‘regular schools’)
- inferior quality of education, including in mainstream settings where children with disabilities have been ‘integrated’ into the existing non-inclusive system
Human rights law seeks to directly tackle these issues by placing obligations on states to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to education of people with disabilities, through the implementation of ‘inclusive education’.