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Research report

Eastern and Southern Africa regional study on the fulfilment of the right to education of children with disabilities

Anna Riggall and Alison Croft

This research investigates the fulfilment of the right to education of children with disabilities across 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa

This study adopted a mixed methods approach combining analysis of data derived from a desk study and that from a small-scale survey. It also incorporated findings and analysis from the country studies conducted in the Comoros, Madagascar and Rwanda where three different research groups, consisting of international researchers and a national researcher, undertook fieldwork, including interviews and school visits.

The findings are generally encouraging, though there are mixed levels of political commitment throughout the region.  Although the vast majority of Ministries of Education have some degree of responsibility for educating children with disabilities, it is not always clear where central responsibility for this lies. Spreading the responsibility without clarity and accountability could result in a climate in which each ministry is unsure of its role and services are not delivered effectively. Further to this, it is often only observable disabilities that are recognised, with many not recognising disabilities which impact a child's capacity to learn. A key recommendation relates to ensuring legislation and policies are reviewed to check for consistency for states that have ratified the convention, and advocacy to encourage non-signatory states to ratify the convention and protocol.

An inclusive education approach is reported to be the dominant strategy for providing education to children with disabilities. However, there is little evidence that documents political commitment to implement such approaches, such as provision of teacher training for inclusive education as a mainstream activity. Although important disability-specific teacher training programmes have taken shape in some countries, they have not yet been given the prominence and status required to ensure that teachers gain the skills needed to meet the needs of an inclusive education system. Despite the challenges, the evidence also suggests there is good practice taking place across the region, with some innovative examples of state and non-state provision for children with disabilities, and teacher education programmes which specifically address support for children with disabilities. A key recommendation is for initial teacher education and continuing professional development to be reviewed to ensure specialist and mainstream teachers are prepared to include children with disabilities in education. General improvements in teaching quality, such as a problem-solving attitude to children’s difficulties at school and strategies for helping children when they find something hard to learn, will help all children.

Demand-side conditions show poverty to pose financial challenges to poor households and affects those with children with disabilities more acutely. Parents sometimes do not prioritise education for children with disabilities, with other parents in mainstream schools holding negative attitudes towards children with disabilities being in the same class as their child. Stigmatisation of disability can be compounded by issues such as having no school uniform, and being a girl often means facing a double sense of descrimination and marginalisation. Sensitisation of parents, caregivers and communities is vital in recognising the right to education for every child, including children with disabilities, given the stigma and cultural attitudes towards disability.