In-depth analysis confirms that persons with disabilities are less likely to ever start or complete education and acquire basic literacy skills

A new paper from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Education and Disability, presents the first in-depth analysis of available data for 49 countries. It confirms that persons with disabilities are less likely to ever attend school, more likely to be out of school and that they tend to have fewer years of education than persons without disabilities. They are less likely to complete primary or secondary education and are less likely to possess basic literacy skills.

Photo credit: GPE/Natash Graham

The analysis examined five education indicators based on data from three sources, collected between 2005 and 2015: Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) sponsored by USAID, School-to-Work Transition Surveys (SWTS) by ILO, and population census data compiled by IPUMS-International. The results are sobering.

  • The proportion of those aged 15 to 29 who have ever attended school

Persons with disabilities between the ages of 15 to 29 are less likely to have attended school than those without in almost all of the 37 countries. The largest gaps are found in Viet Nam 2009 (44% vs. 97%), Egypt 2006 (43% vs. 89%) and Indonesia 2010 (53% vs. 98%).

  • Out-of-school rate for children of primary and lower secondary school age

The UIS examined data on out-of-school rates and disability for six countries that participated in Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS): Cambodia, Colombia, Gambia, Maldives, Uganda and Yemen. But even such a small sample is enough to reveal some alarming disparities. The biggest gap is seen in Cambodia, with a 50-percentage-point difference between the 57% of children with disabilities who are out of school (1 in every 2), compared to 7% of other children (1 in every 14).

  • Completion rate for primary and lower secondary education

Children and adolescents with disabilities are also less likely to complete primary and lower secondary education than those without disabilities in the six countries with DHS data. For example, only 36% of adolescents with disabilities complete lower secondary education compared to 53% of adolescents without disabilities in the six countries that were analysed.

  • Mean years of schooling for those aged 25 and older

On average across the 22 countries and territories with data, people aged 25 years and older without disabilities have 7 years of schooling, compared with 4.8 years for those with disabilities.

  • Adult literacy rate for those aged 15 and older

In all 25 countries with relevant data, the adult literacy rate for those with disabilities is lower than for other adults. The gap ranges from 5% in Mali to 41% in Indonesia, where the vast majority of adults without disabilities (93%) have basic literacy skills, compared to only half (52%) of adults with disabilities.

The data also reveal that women with disabilities are often less likely to reap the benefits of a formal education than disabled men – marginalised not only by their disability but also by their gender. In most countries, men with disabilities have higher literacy rates than women with disabilities. The widest gap is seen in Mozambique, where almost one in every two men with disabilities (49%) can read and write, compared to only one in six women with disabilities (17%).

How to improve the quality of data

The paper also makes a series of recommendations to improve the quality of data on disability and education. Comparability of the data across countries is limited, for example because not all national surveys and censuses used the standard set of questions developed by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics (WG) and UNICEF to identify adults and children with disabilities.

Key recommendations from the paper include: 

  • Increase the availability of internationally-comparable data on education and disability;
  • Build an inventory of existing data;
  • Use Washington Group questions in all surveys and censuses;
  • Increase frequency of data collection for regular monitoring, especially in light of SDG 4;
  • Strengthen statistical capacity in countries to measure disability, including administrative data collection;
  • Improve coordination between national and international agencies in the area of disability statistics; and
  • Increase funding by international donors and foundations for collection and analysis of data on disability.