Education and disability: Analysis of data for Asia-Pacific countries

Education and disability: Analysis of data for Asia-Pacific countries

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 4.5 commits all UN Member States to address all forms of exclusion and inequality in access, participation and learning outcomes, from early childhood to the elderly. Persons with disabilities are among the populations most likely to suffer from exclusion from education, but data required for an analysis of the links between disability and education remain scarce. In this context, this article examines educational disparities linked to disability based on data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) 2018 paper Education and Disability: Analysis of Data from 49 Countries.

The findings confirm that persons with disabilities are almost always worse off than persons without disabilities in terms of educational access and learning outcomes. In addition, women with disabilities are often less likely to reap the benefits of formal education than disabled men.

School attendance

Based on data from the School-to-Work Transition Surveys (SWTS) and Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), persons with disabilities aged 15 to 29 years old are generally less likely to have attended school than their peers. Despite limited sex-disaggregated data, in Cambodia, Indonesia and Viet Nam, men are apparently more likely to have attended school than women (Figure 1).

In the UIS paper, large gaps between persons with and without disabilities in attending school were reported for countries from Asia-Pacific, as in Indonesia 2010 (53% and 98%), in Viet Nam 2013 (63% and 98%), and Kyrgyzstan 2013 (67% and 100%).

Figure 1. Population 15-29 years old who have attended school

Notes: Bangladesh is SWTS 2013. Indonesia is IPUMS 2010. SWTS Cambodia 2014, SWTS Kyrgyzstan 2013, SWTS Nepal 2013 and SWTS Viet Nam 2013 are based on 25-49 unweighted observations and may not represent accurate data. Source: IPUMS-International and SWTS, 2006-2015.


Out of school

Primary school-age children with disabilities were more likely to be out of school than their peers. Cambodia presented the largest gap between children with and without disabilities, with a 50-percentage-point difference between the out-of-school rate of disabled and non-disabled children (57% vs 7%). As reflected in the adjusted disability parity index of 1.88 (Figure 2), one of every two disabled children was not in school in the country.

Figure 2. Adjusted disability parity index for out-of-school children at primary school age

Notes: Maldives is for 2009. Cambodia 2014 is based on 25-49 unweighted observations and may not represent accurate data. Source: DHS, 2009-2014.


Education completion

The completion rate is the percentage of a cohort of children or young people, aged three to five years above the intended age for the last grade of each level of education, who have completed that grade. For instance, 73% of Cambodian 14 to 16-year-olds without a disability have completed primary education, compared to only 44% of their peers with a disability. In the Maldives, almost all non-disabled 15 to 17-year-olds completed primary education (98%), whereas only four of five adolescents in the same cohort with a disability (79%) completed primary education. As a direct consequence of lower primary completion rates, children with disabilities were also reported less likely to continue their education. In Cambodia, only 4% of disabled adolescents completed lower secondary education, compared to 41% of their non-disabled peers.

Figure 3. Completion rate for primary and lower secondary education, with and without disability

Notes: Maldives is for 2009. Cambodia 2014 is based on 25-49 unweighted observations and may not represent accurate data. Source: DHS, 2009-2014.


Years of schooling

Persons with disabilities spent a lower average number of years in school than their counterparts, and women with disabilities tended to have fewer years of schooling than disabled men. In Bangladesh, Cambodia and Viet Nam (Figure 4), females with disabilities spent the least amount of time in school, with less than two years in Bangladesh and about four years in Viet Nam.

Figure 4. Mean years of schooling, population 25 years and older, by sex, with and without disabilities


Notes: Bangladesh is 2011, Cambodia 2008, Viet Nam 2009. Source: IPUMS-International, 2005-2011.



In all countries, persons with disabilities had lower literacy rates than non-disabled persons. Large gaps in adult literacy rates linked to disabilities were present in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Viet Nam. In Viet Nam, the high adult literacy rate of 94% for persons who were not disabled contrasted with the 59% literacy rate among disabled persons. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there was a difference of 31 percentage points between the literacy rate of disabled (49%) and non-disabled adults (80%). In the majority of countries, men with disabilities had higher literacy rates than women with disabilities.

Figure 5. Adult literacy rate, population 15 years and older

Notes: Bangladesh is 2011, Cambodia 2008, Indonesia 2010, Iran (Islamic Republic of) 2006, Viet Nam 2009. Source: IPUMS-International, 2005-2011.


Conclusion and recommendations

The UIS paper offered several recommendations as comparability across countries is currently limited due to the widespread use of non-standardized questions in survey and census questionnaires as well as small sample sizes.

  • Future surveys and censuses should use question sets developed by the Washington Group on Disability Statistics and UNICEF;
  • Administrative data on disability should be improved;
  • Sample sizes of household surveys should be increased to offer a better and more accurate picture for analysis;
  • Censuses, which are not subject to sampling error and can provide detailed information about small population groups, should always include questions on disability;
  • To allow periodic monitoring of progress towards SDG 4 and other national and international goals, data collection must be repeated on a regular basis;
  • Improve the availability of internationally comparable data on disability, education and related areas, and promote the use of this information among analysts, advocacy groups, policy-makers and other stakeholders;
  • Improve coordination among national and international agencies involved in the measurement of disability, with additional funding from international donors and foundations.

To provide methodological guidance in measuring equity in learning, calculating and interpreting indicators, and investigating the extent to which measuring equity in learning has been integrated into country policies, national planning, and data collection and analysis, UIS in collaboration with FHI 360 Education Policy and Data Center, Oxford Policy Management, and the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge developed the Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education.

The handbook is intended as a reference for analysis and interpretation of education data. It is aimed at professionals involved in the measurement and monitoring of equity in education, which includes not only those working on the SDGs but also all stakeholders in the field of education

Read the full paper and recommendations: Education and Disability: Analysis of Data from 49 Countries.



UNESCO Bangkok’s Assessment, Information System, Monitoring and Statistics (AIMS) Unit is the Asia-Pacific regional office of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). For more information about the UIS, consult the following resources:

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Photo: Shutterstock/ By John Bill

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