News and opinion

Jacqui Mattingly

BLOG - Studies on the right to education for children with disabilities

21 September 2016

Principal advisor, Jacqui Mattingly, discusses her time in Rwanda, Madagascar and Comoros

Despite the commitment of many countries to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, together with Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals, disability continues to be one of the primary causes of educational disadvantage and exclusion. Children with disabilities form the largest single group of girls and boys who remain out of school, and frequently face severe discrimination and marginalisation. Disability intersects with other dimensions of marginalisation such as social status, gender, security, economic and health conditions which serve to compound the barriers faced.

During 2015, UNICEF and CfBT Education Trust jointly funded a study on the right to education for children with disabilities in Southern and Eastern Africa. The aim was to examine the degree to which children with disabilities are able to access their right to education, to highlight good practice and the challenges that prevail. This involved a desk-based review of the 21 countries in the region, supplemented by a more in-depth study in Madagascar, Comoros and Rwanda.

The in-country studies required qualitative research in each of the three countries, and I was appointed as team leader to complete these. CfBT recruited a local researcher and interpreter in each country to work with me to conduct the research through interviews, focus group discussions, and to observe the situation in schools and classrooms. Once we had reviewed available, relevant literature and had developed the tools to guide the interviews, discussions and observation we were ready to start in-country work.

The UNICEF country offices provided support and set the schedule for our meetings with a wide range of people including national, regional and district government officials, representatives of national and international organisations, civil society organisations, as well as head teachers, teachers, parents and children –including those who attend school and those who do not.

Madagascar was my first destination and despite a hurricane heading there at the same time as my plane, I arrived safely and early enough not to get snarled up in the very heavy traffic jams that grid-lock the roads in the capital, Tana, every day. The hectic schedule, visiting schools and institutions inside and outside the capital, allowed me no time to explore and I made a promise to return some time before too long to really see and enjoy the unique flora and fauna of this large island country. From there, I went on directly to Comoros and another hectic schedule, involving visits to all three islands that make up the Union of Comoros. The islands themselves each have their own individual characteristics and are surprisingly different from their relative near neighbour, Madagascar. I returned home to work remotely with each local researcher, analysing the results and completing the write up before heading for the last destination, Rwanda, the 'country of 1000 hills'. It seemed as if every school we visited was perched on a hilltop with the most stunning views!

I was privileged to have such dedicated teams to work with in each country. The schedule demanded long days and some overnight stays, which left them little free time for other things. In each country the teams not only provided invaluable local knowledge, support, hard work and determination but also after working and travelling so closely together for 2 weeks we became firm friends. I do hope there may be another opportunity to meet or work together again.

All three countries visited are at different stages in their development and vary widely in their provision of education for children with disabilities. Although many challenges were found, there was also evidence of good practice often in the most difficult circumstances. Individual teachers, parents and the children themselves all demonstrated a strong will and persistence to overcome difficulties. It is hoped that the study will contribute to and promote the inclusion of children with disabilities in education as a continual long-term process of system development, and an integral part of quality improvement in teaching and learning.