Tens of millions of children with disabilities out of school due to poor government and donor practice, report finds
- Disability rights and development organisations launch new research report, #CostingEquity
- They call on governments & donors to urgently prioritise education for children with disabilities
- Billions of dollars of income from the world’s poorest countries is
being lost through lack of schooling and employment for huge numbers of
people who have disabilities
- A severe lack of funding, data and expertise among both national
governments and global donors—even including long-standing supporters of
these issues such as the European Union, the Global Partnership for
Education, and USAID—is largely responsible
A report launched at the United Nations today finds that millions of
children with disabilities are being left out of school because little
to no money is being budgeted for their needs.
At least half of the world’s 65 million school-age children with disabilities are not in primary or lower secondary school.
#CostingEquity; The case for disability-responsive education
financing highlights the issue as a major challenge standing in the way
of success for the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to ensure
inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030.
The research was produced by the International Disability and
Development Consortium (IDDC)—supported by Light for the World, Open
Society Foundations and several other leading disability rights and
development organisations—who are calling on both governments and donors
to urgently take action.
The case for inclusive education
#CostingEquity strongly recommends ‘inclusive education’ as the best
method for governments and donors alike to reach children with
disabilities: that is, quality learning opportunities for the vast
majority of children within a mainstream system.
Despite evidence of the significant benefits of inclusive education,
particularly during early childhood development, most governments and
external financers are not paying heed; too often ring-fencing small
allocations for special education, or forgetting children with
disabilities altogether. The report finds a persistent failure to invest
in system-wide reform.
“Inclusive education can drastically reduce out of school
populations; it can remove learning barriers for every child; it can
tackle discrimination in society; and, it is considerably cheaper than
“Yet, despite this evidence, no-one is putting up the money, the
research, the training or the time to coordinate system-wide change to
empower children with disabilities to attend schools in classrooms
alongside their non-disabled peers,” explained Nafisa Baboo, Senior
Advisor for Inclusive Education at Light for the World and co-
coordinator of the IDDC inclusive Education Task Group.
Lack of government engagement
#CostingEquity describes domestic funding as the most important
source for education financing, highlighting the severe problem that
many governments do not share how much they spend on schooling for
children with disabilities; let alone whether those funds go into
segregated or inclusive education.
“Many governments wrongly, believe that the returns on investing in
inclusive education will be low. We really hope this report helps mark a
turning point in understanding of the huge benefits of financing and
education for children with disabilities,” said Ola Abu Alghaib, global
head of influencing at Leonard Cheshire Disability.
In Ethiopia, where an estimated 96% of children with disabilities are
out of school – the report highlights how the government’s Education
Sector Plan anticipates closing the financing gap using household and
community contributions. The report raises the concern that increasing
reliance on household support for education financing could exacerbate
educational exclusion for children with disabilities, who are often
found in the poorest households.
Severe lack of funding, expertise and shared-practice among donors
The #CostingEquity report finds that even among the world’s leading
donor education agencies, the situation is far from what is needed to
reach any way near the target agreed in the Sustainable Development
Goals to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education for all” by
The research paper surveys a wide range of donors on their efforts
towards disability-inclusive education, including many of the
organisations who have helped ‘lead the charge’ on raising the issue of
education for children with disabilities: DFAT (Australia), DFID
(UK),European Union, GIZ (Germany), Global Partnership for Education,
Norad (Norway), UNICEF, USAID (USA), and the World Bank.
The report says that, despite limited signs of progress in some
agencies in terms of organisational strategies, monitoring frameworks
and staff awareness; progress is seldom felt on a country level, ‘on the
The report cites several reasons for the gap between commitments on
paper and programmes in reality, including a lack of dedicated
staff—across any of the organisations—who could be identified as fully
engaged in promoting disability-inclusive education, as well as
The report also highlights how most donor aid does not include
amounts earmarked for disability or inclusive approaches. Norad, the
Norwegian development agency, was unusual in being able to show that 29%
of its education funds were directed to inclusive education.
None of the organisations surveyed for this report could show a portfolio-wide approach to disability-inclusive education.
“We are seeing the signs of emerging commitment to
disability-inclusive education across donor agencies, but progress is
going at a snail’s pace compared to the scale of the issue we are
facing,” warned Ingrid Lewis, Director, Enabling Education Network.
“This report is a collective wake-up call to all of us about the
urgency of the situation and how desperately we need to join together to
share knowledge, best practice, and resources as well as build
capacity, collect data, document and research different models of
practice to start to make things better,” said Sian Tesni, CBM Senior
Advisor for Education.
Global decline in aid for education
The #CostingEquity report follows the Global Education Monitoring
Report, released in September of this year, which found the education
sector globally has been substantially underfunded, and international
aid to education is declining.
“This global trend is a huge problem for those of us who fight for
education rights for children with disabilities. Education is not a
priority sector for government or donor investment, and education for
children with disabilities comes even lower down the list. Children with
disabilities are constantly left at the very back of the queue, and the
impact on both individuals and economies can be disastrous,” explained
Julia McGeown, Inclusive Education Technical Advisor at Handicap
The report recommends that governments in low-income contexts need to
close persistent gaps between inclusive education policy and practice,
and provide adequate domestic financing for this. It calls for a more
strategic use of existing resources, reprioritisation of budgets,
stronger focus on quality measures such as improved teacher education,
and strong political and community leadership on inclusion.
It suggests that the Global Partnership for Education should develop a
new financing window or facility for disability-inclusive education to
grow additional financing and ensure that donor resources are better
targeted to disability-inclusive education–providing technical support
to countries, innovation grants as well as large-scale evidence
#CostingEquity also calls on all donors to prioritise efforts to
reverse the decline in aid for education and normalise
disability-responsiveness as a core criterion in education funding, both
with partner governments and with implementing contractors
(consultants, NGOs, etc.). This should be reflected in donor policies
and strategies on disability and inclusion that all existing and new
staff must be oriented on.
“Governments, together with the world’s leading donor agencies, could
help send tens of millions of children to school if they begin
prioritising this issue. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is
also the clever thing to do; if we want to accomplish a real impact come
2030, in order to leave no one behind,” said Marion Steff, Policy
Advisor at Sightsavers.
Notes to editors
The International Disability and Development Consortium is a global
consortium of disability and development non-governmental organisations
(NGOs), mainstream development NGOs and disabled people’s organisations
supporting disability and development work in more than 100 countries
around the world