Monitoring progress in education among individuals with disabilities

POST2015_equity_borderBy Daniel Mont, an Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre at University College London.  During his ten years at the World Bank he co-chaired the analytical working group of the UN Washington Group on Disability Statistics, and has published widely in the area of disability and poverty.  He is currently working with UNICEF on getting disability into Educational Management Information Systems and with UNESCAP on operationalizing the indicators in the Incheon “Making the Right Real” Disability Strategy.

Equity is a guiding theme of the proposals in the Open Working Group outcome document on the global development agenda post-2015. The report explicitly recognizes people with disabilities in 5 of the 17 goals, including education.  In order to effectively monitor and evaluate progress towards achieving this vision we need timely, high quality data on both people with disabilities and the environmental barriers they face.  In general, this has not been possible in most countries. In fact, until recently there were no generally agreed upon questions for identifying people with disabilities that had been tested widely in developing countries.

Corinna Becker/UNESCO
Corinna Becker/UNESCO

Fortunately, this situation is changing.  Drawing upon the framework of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, the UN Statistical Commission’s Washington Group on Disability Statistics (WG), comprising representatives from dozens of national statistical offices across the globe, has developed and tested a short set of six questions for identifying people with disabilities.

The main aim is to include these questions as a regular part of every national census and survey – for example, household income and expenditure surveys, labour force surveys, demographic and health surveys.  This will allow all currently constructed indicators to be disaggregated by disability status. If accomplished, this will be a major achievement, allowing us to produce timely, high quality indicators to monitor progress on the post-2015 priorities.

A global disability survey?

These six questions on disability have been adopted in many countries.  In fact, they (or questions inspired by them) have been tested or implemented in over fifty nations.  The complaint that there “is no good way to measure disability” on a survey is no longer valid. It would not be difficult or costly to include them as a regular part of national surveys, but the payoff for monitoring the well-being of people with disabilities would be immense.  For surveys with more available space the WG tested and released a more extensive set of disability questions.

All such question sets have some weaknesses. One is that they are not suitable for children.  To address this limitation, the WG and UNICEF have recently piloted a set of child disability questions in several countries, which is near finalization.  UNICEF will recommend that these questions be incorporated in their flagship Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey.

Addressing environmental barriers

Another weakness is that the WG questions do not address environmental barriers.  Disability, of course, arises from the interaction of functional limitations at the personal level with barriers in the environment that preclude full participation in society. The WG questions were never designed to capture the latter.  The nature and extent of barriers must be gleaned from special disability surveys. The Model Disability Survey, developed by the WHO, collects information on environmental barriers. Concurrently UNICEF and the WG are working on similar questions pertaining to education contexts.

Photo: Binh Duong/UNESCO
Photo: Binh Duong/UNESCO

In the field of education, we also need to include high quality questions on disability in Education Management Information Systems, used by national ministries of education. Most school systems rarely ask questions on the environment — for example, the accessibility of schools, the training of teachers on inclusive education, or the availability of appropriate materials and services. A guide I recently prepared for UNICEF (soon to be released) includes recommendations for how to include such information in school census questionnaires.  This is vital because this is the main tool to monitor educational outcomes and to plan, develop, and evaluate the impact of policies.

If countries take this two-pronged approach – incorporating disability into their Education Management Information Systems and using the new UNICEF/WG child disability questions in national surveys – they will be able to answer important questions about the extent to which children with disabilities are attending and succeeding in school and identify the key barriers that may be preventing access and success.

Even so, these are only the first steps in understanding the impact of disability on education. What are the differences in the returns to education for children with disabilities?  One study from Nepal actually shows it is higher than for non-disabled children.  Some studies also show that children without disabilities are less likely to attend school if they have a disabled adult living in their household.  Only looking at individuals and not at households misses the broader impact of disability on people’s lives. Nevertheless it would be a major step forward.

For more information, follow Daniel Mont on Twitter @mont_daniel.


Read the introduction to this blog series



  1. I agree! Although the two pronged approach will bring answers to help identify issues, this is the first step to understanding the impact. In order for us understand our present state, we must explore the past. Understanding the foundational and historical work in the field of education can broaden and deepen our perspective on current trends and issues. Similarly, understanding social and political transitions can help clarify changes in educational policies and practices.

  2. I have two queries with regards to your post:
    1. Can you please share the six questions formulated to identify people with disabilities?
    2. What mechanisms shall be taken care of in order to collect complete and accurate information about children with disabilities for inclusion in EMIS?

  3. For a list of the 6 Washington Group questions, a rationale for how they were developed, and supporting documentation see:

    For the WG extended set see:

    If you explore the site you will find lots of presentations and papers on disability measurement.

    Finally, the child disability questions will hopefully be finalized and launched in March. If you’d like to see a working version you can e-mail me at

  4. As or EMIS, I’ve written guide for including disability in an EMIS for UNICEF. We are looking for countries to pilot test it in. It looks like Ethiopia and Tanzania are the top candidates right now.

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