USAID Studies Explore Current Trends in Disability Inclusive Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa have made a commitment to inclusive education by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In many cases, countries have gone further, with their own legislation and/or constitutional provisions. The goal is for all children to fully exercise their right to an education that meets their needs and prepares them for full participation in society.

Unfortunately, right now that is not the case, as a recent literature review conducted by the USAID Data and Evidence for Education Programs (DEEP) team shows. This study, authored by EnCompass LLC, shows that children with disabilities are less likely, on average, to get to school and, even when they do attend, less likely to stay until they complete their schooling. For example, out of school rates in Ethiopia and Uganda are twice as high among children with disabilities. In South Africa, where nearly all children without a disability attend school, close to one-fifth of children with disabilities do not.


Getting to school does not mean staying in school

The average primary school completion rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are 10.1 percentage points lower for girls with disabilities than girls without disabilities and 12.8 percentage points lower for boys with disabilities than those without. In one area of Kenya, 33.3 percent of those with learning disabilities dropped out.

Financial, physical, and social barriers to enrollment and retention are widespread

They range from a lack of accessible infrastructure and materials, to a lack of adaptive or inclusive teaching practices, to discrimination and abuse. Ramps and handrails are some of the easiest and most obvious accommodations, but in Ghana, for example, only 8 percent of schools were equipped with them in 2018. ​All of the 956 children with disabilities interviewed in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia had suffered at least one act of emotional or sexual violence, and 81.5 percent had suffered at least one instance of physical abuse.

Failing to integrate inclusive practices results in poorer quality education

Nearly all teachers surveyed acknowledged that the lack of inclusive practices leads to dropouts. It also leads to a lower quality of education for those who remain. Based on a review of 11 countries, only 1 in 10 teachers had received in-service training to promote inclusive education. Only 38.3 percent of teachers who worked with learners with learning difficulties had participated in special needs education training, while 59.9 percent had not had any sort of formal training on how to work with learners with disabilities.



Improving Data to Inform Better Policy and Programming Solutions

Governments, USAID, and other donor organizations are supporting a number of efforts to help countries in Sub-Saharan Africa improve these conditions. Assessing the need for interventions, designing policies, and evaluating the impact of those policies and interventions requires high-quality data. Historically, data on disability has been sparse and or of poor quality. More recently, international consensus on best practices in measuring disability and the development of data collection tools, such as the Washington Group Short Set and the UNICEF/Washington Child Functioning Modules, have increased the availability of standardized, high-quality survey data.

Challenges remain, however. International surveys reflect challenges in comparability, sample size, and design. At the national level, historical challenges such as data quality and availability remain. These challenges are illuminated in another report by DEEP, which sought to evaluate the quality of data related to the education of children with disabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa and determine ways to improve the data collection and analysis that supports inclusive education initiatives. The report maps out key data sources that contain information on learner disability status in the region, including census data, survey data, and administrative (EMIS) data. The report highlights factors that can make analyzing and using disability data challenging. The report also provides data tables with information on school attendance, out-of-school rates, school completion, mean years of school, and literacy rates for learners with disabilities across Sub-Saharan Africa.



Key Steps Toward Improving Data Quality

The report concludes with specific recommendations for improving data quality:

  • Standardization of data collection tools and protocols, analysis, and data interpretation could help increase the comparability and quality of data.
  • Increasing sample sizes by oversampling populations with disabilities in household-based surveys would increase the precision of findings and permit greater disaggregation of data.
  • Greater harmonization of data collection approaches and better coordination in data collection efforts would ensure increased complementarity and comparability and could create the potential to link the resulting data.
  • Increasing the accessibility of existing disability data, increasing the standard reporting of education indicators by disability status, building the capacity to analyze the data, and using the data appropriately to determine policies and program investments or changes will be crucial as country and global programs continue their work to leave no one behind.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are poised to make significant gains in inclusive education. Equipped with the right data, those efforts are more likely to succeed.

Key Area
Data & Evidence
disability inclusive education


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