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It is time to ensure disability-disaggregated data for education system transformation

It is time to ensure disability-disaggregated data for education system transformation

High-quality, disability-inclusive education data collection and monitoring are indispensable tools for improving education access, quality, and outcomes 


By

Brandon Darr

Brandon Darr

Consultant,
Inclusive Quality Education Section (IQE),
UNESCO Asia and Pacific
Regional Bureau for Education
(UNESCO Bangkok)

Catherine Wilczek

Catherine Wilczek

Assistant Programme Officer,
Inclusive Quality Education Section (IQE),
UNESCO Asia and Pacific
Regional Bureau for Education
(UNESCO Bangkok)


As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has recently noted, ‘Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security.’ Perhaps now more than ever, Guterres suggests, 

In line with the central premise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ‘leave no one behind’, it is crucial for governments, public and private sectors to collaboratively find innovative solutions for and with persons with disabilities to make the world a more accessible and equitable place. 

The effective development and implementation of innovations hinges upon the availability of data. This starts with developing national data and statistical systems’ capacities to collect high-quality, disability-inclusive data, which has the potential to substantially transform the everyday lives of persons with disabilities in Asia-Pacific and around the globe. Disability-inclusive data, specifically in the context of inclusive education, is crucial in monitoring the progress on inclusive policies and in making evidence-informed decisions in any process of transforming education systems towards becoming more inclusive, and ensuring no child is left behind. 

This year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) – which aims every 3 December to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities – calls for transformative solutions for inclusive development in order to increase the role of innovation in fuelling a more accessible and equitable world. For such solutions to be truly transformative, innovative approaches require evidence-based data that is inclusive of persons with disabilities. Disability-inclusive data is especially important for equitable learning, as learners with disabilities are often difficult to identify, which impacts their development and learning outcomes. Access to inclusive and quality education can lead to more equitable opportunities for learners both in and out of school and can ultimately impact every learner’s future participation in society.  

A learner using sign language for online learning

In taking stock of the Asia-Pacific region, a recent UNESCO background paper summarized findings that revealed how learners with disabilities are often underrepresented in and excluded from education systems. For example, before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 50 per cent of learners with disabilities in developing Asia-Pacific countries did not attend school. Notably, some of the largest gaps between learners with and without disabilities ever enrolling in school can be found in Asia and the Pacific. Innovative policies and strategies, such as accessible classrooms and schools, assistive technologies, disability-sensitive assessment tools, and disability-inclusive teacher training are highly dependent upon identifying and knowing specific information about learners with disabilities. Equipped with data on persons with disabilities, such approaches can appropriately reach the intended learners and better allocate limited financial and human resources, thus working towards providing accessible and quality education for one of the region’s most vulnerable populations. 

The Asia-Pacific region has, to its credit, shown much recognition recently of the need for disability-inclusive education data. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Disability-Inclusive Education in Asia-Pacific Working Group, co-chaired by UNESCO, UNICEF, and Leonard Cheshire, organized a webinar to create a dialogue among implementers and policy-makers on improving data collection mechanisms. Webinar participants were introduced to existing tools, such as UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), and Washing Group Short Set and Child Functioning Module, to better include learners with disabilities. The Jakarta Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023-2032 also reaffirmed the need for disability-disaggregated data to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda and inform disability-inclusive policymaking, programme planning, and implementation strategies. 

Education Management Information Systems (EMIS) also have the potential to transform education for learners with disabilities. Although disaggregated data on learners with disabilities are available from a large array of sources, including censuses, administrative records, national disability surveys and national household surveys,  the current EMIS in many countries do not capture comprehensive information to assess the accessibility and reasonable accommodation in schools, to evaluate learning outcomes, or to analyse attendance, the number of learners out of-school, or the completion rates of learners with disabilities. The lack of consistent definitions and indicators of disability, combined with disparities in the methodologies used to gather data, are the main challenges to producing reliable and comparable statistics. As a result, persons with disabilities and the issues that limit their full participation in society are often underrepresented or unaddressed in policy-making.  

A learner on a wheelchair using a tablet

Not only do accessible and inclusive EMIS help governments monitor the status of learners with disabilities on their education access, participation, and learning, disaggregated EMIS can also assist in early identification of learners with disabilities through developmental screening, examination, observation and evaluation in the early stages of child development. Such processes, in turn, facilitate delivery of intervention programmes and enable educators to adapt learning materials, teaching strategies and formative and summative assessments to learners’ specific needs. Inclusive EMIS can also impact other social services for persons with disabilities when taking an inter-ministerial or inter-departmental approach to data collection. This can strengthen efforts for persons with disabilities and lead to targeted innovations for persons with disabilities across sectors, while aligning with SDG indicators that require data disaggregated by disability. 

Strong EMIS can easily integrate tools for disability-inclusive data. Fiji’s EMIS (FEMIS) disaggregates data by disability using the Washing Group and UNICEF Module on Child Functioning, and includes detailed information about learners with disabilities, such as daily attendance, learning outcomes and subsidy programmes. Teachers also receive guidelines and training on using the data from the FEMIS to assess learners’ experiences, create individual student profiles and determine, along with parents and caregivers, any targeted interventions. The FEMIS also collects data beyond formal education, with information on out-of-school learners with disabilities and engagement with learners such as home visits. In this way, the FEMIS has the data to determine innovative approaches for increasing both quality of and access to education for learners with disabilities. 

Given this year’s IDPD overaching theme of ‘innovation and transformative solutions for inclusive development’, now is an opportune time for countries to build national capacities on data and statistical systems at all levels to develop well targeted transformative solutions for equitable access to quality education and learning outcomes, and to realise the full ambition of SDG 4 of the 2030 Agenda for a more accessible and equitable world. 


Brandon Ray Darr supports initiatives at UNESCO in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and Inclusive Quality Education (IQE), particularly for activities under the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group. He holds a Master’s degree in International Educational Development from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor’s in Educational Linguistics from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  

Catherine Wilczek supports the Asia-Pacific program at UNESCO on Inclusive Education (IE), primarily on children with disabilities and vulnerable groups. She also facilitates the activities of the Disability-Inclusive Education in Asia-Pacific Working Group. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in International Business from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia.