Making Disability Visible: How to Generate More and Better Data on Education for children with disabilities

By Friedrich Huebler, Head of Education Standards and Methodology at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and Stuart Cameron, Thematic Lead on Equity and Inclusion, Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

Two new data resources launched today focus on people with disabilities who are so often disadvantaged and ‘invisible’ when it comes to education. Excluded and uncounted, they are often missing not only from the world’s classrooms, but also from education data.

First, a new database developed by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) captures the severe educational challenges faced by people with disabilities. The database confirms that they are less likely to ever go to school, more likely to be out of school and have fewer years of education than people without disabilities. They are far less likely to complete primary or secondary education or gain basic literacy skills, and women with disabilities are less likely to have had a formal education than men with disabilities – marginalized not only by their disability but also by their gender.

Funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the database is accompanied by a detailed background analysis on 49 countries that looks more closely at the findings and the methodological issues around data on disability and education. Both the data and its analysis featured prominently in the most recent UN flagship Disability and Development Report, published in June this year.

New study to develop inclusive education indicators

Second, the database is being released with a new UIS study, funded by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE): The Use of UIS Data and Education Management Information Systems to Monitor Inclusive Education. The study reviews the data needed to fully develop the global indicators for monitoring of SDG targets 4.5 (“equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations”) and 4.a (“education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”).

It examines how to increase the availability of data on education for people with disabilities, outlining how global data from the UIS and national data from education management information systems (EMIS) could be better used to monitor inclusive education. The study was based on an examination of school census forms from 71 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, and a literature review.

Changes to EMIS forms to capture disabilities

The joint study identifies some issues with the current forms for EMIS, with disability often positioned as a ‘catch-all’ category that does not capture the abilities of students. It suggests that revised EMIS forms should:

  • include information on disability status and learning outcomes of students with disabilities,
  • focus on individual student records, rather than on aggregate data for all students,
  • identify students with disabilities on the basis of functional difficulties in all domains (seeing, hearing, walking, cognition, etc.),
  • collect information on the degree of disability, and
  • exclude derogatory language.

The findings of the study confirm the need to:

  • improve the availability and quality of internationally comparable data on disability to monitor national and international goals,
  • develop better tools to identify children and adults with disabilities,
  • strengthen efforts to make EMIS more inclusive and aggregate school-level data at national level, and
  • promote greater use of data on disability by analysts, advocacy groups, policy makers and other stakeholders.

More investments in data are needed

The new resources confirm the need for greater collaboration between countries and donors. Financial and technical resources need to be aligned at the country and international levels in order to avoid duplication of efforts, improve accountability for statistical capacity building, ensure efficient investment of existing resources and improve the functioning and use of EMIS.

Is all of this feasible? Yes, if there is far greater investment in data systems. Taken together, the new database and the joint study reinforce the pressing need for funding to track progress towards SDG 4, which demands a quality education for all.

All of the SDGs emphasize equity: progress that is universal, with nobody left behind. That is why it is so vital to gather, analyse and make the best possible use of data on people who are missing out solely because of their disability. 

To find out more, join our webinar!

The study, The Use of UIS Data and Education Management Systems to Monitor Inclusive Education, will be the subject of a joint GPE-UIS webinar on 31 October 2019.


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