Children with disabilities continue to be left out of school even as some countries assert that they have met the millennium development goal (MDG) to grant every child access to free primary education.
With the current trend the second MDG, which targets universal primary education by 2015, has not been met largely because of poor progress in sub-Saharan Africa. Problems related to getting disabled children into the school system are also thought to be behind the failure.
According to Human Rights Watch fewer than 10% of disabled children in Africa attend primary school since a majority of schools practise widespread discrimination against children with disabilities in enrolment decisions.
Consequently many schools in the developing world are not well equipped to teach disabled children and stigma against those with learning difficulties pervades many societies as a result disabled children are denied education because of a lack of physical access and specialist facilities.
In some instances it is reported that parents can’t cope, teachers are not trained to deal with children with disabilities and schools are often under-equipped and inaccessible.
There are also cultural attitudes such as shame, fear and embarrassment on the part of their families as well as teachers and other pupils. These are most prevalent in the poorest rural areas, where traditional and religious beliefs make people believe that having a disabled child is a form of punishment, related to the concept of sin”.
Children in households with disabled parents are also more likely to miss out on education.
Examples of stigmatization disabled children go through include exclusion, isolation and great hardship in getting access to school and being shunned by fellow pupils and staff. This greatly affects their self-esteem and personal development.
Fees for special schools can be too expensive and there may be instances of prejudice about whether it is “worth” teaching disabled children which makes a majority of disabled children miss out in acquiring education.
A lack of understanding of children’s disabilities and a lack of adequate teacher training means that many teachers and school officials do not know how to work with children with disabilities in classrooms. In some cases, disabled children have suffered physical violence and neglect in schools.
Contrary to the government’s international and national obligations, many children are turned away from mainstream schools and referred to special schools by school officials or medical staff simply because they have a disability. The referrals system needlessly forces children to wait for up for some years at care centres or at home for placement in a special school.
The government should also ensure that all children with disabilities and their families are adequately consulted before making decisions on a school placement. To comply with its international obligations, the government should remove school fees and other financial barriers that prevent children with disabilities from going to school.