UN0425712 UNICEF / Soko

Mapping the impact of having a disability on education outcomes

Disability is a new dimension that has been added in 2023 to the World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), which brings together household survey and learning assessment data from over 170 countries. The database was first created in 2010 to draw attention to education inequality levels between and within countries. WIDE already covers inequality due to gender, location, region, wealth, ethnicity and religion. Now it also covers parental education and disability – the latter drawing exclusively on the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), which has been using the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on functional difficulties since 2017. So far, 46 countries have been covered. During the fieldwork, at most one child aged 5–17 per household was assessed. Coverage varied widely across countries, from 25% in Gambia to 78% in Cuba, although in most countries it exceeded 50%.

Countries where MICS6 has assessed disability

Overall, children with at least one functional difficulty were 3 percentage points less likely than the average child to complete primary school but the gap was 6 percentage points in Kiribati and 9 in Guinea-Bissau. But children with at least one sensory, physical or intellectual difficulty, which is a narrower definition of disability, were 7 percentage points less likely than the average child to complete primary school and the gap was 10 percentage points in Zimbabwe and 14 points in Iraq.

Intersecting characteristics often interact with each other to put up even higher barriers to education. For instance, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 69 young women complete upper secondary school for every 100 young men in the average population – but among those with a disability only 61 young women complete upper secondary school for every 100 young men.

Difference in primary completion rate between the average population and children with functional difficulties, low- and lower-middle-income countries, 2017–19

Adults with a disability are less likely to be literate in many countries in Africa. In Gambia and Ghana, only about 70 adults with at least one functional difficulty are literate for every 100 peers without any functional difficulty.

Parity index in the adult literacy rate, adults with disability and average population, 2017–19

There remain challenges in measuring the impact of having a disability on education opportunities

A complication in disability measurement is that the measure of for children aged 5-18 differs from the measure of disability for younger children and for adults. Children aged 5–18 are assessed:

  • by the primary caregiver (whereas adults self-report)
  • in relation to 8 or 13 types of functional difficulty (whereas adults only on 6)

This hampers interpretation of the data. In Sierra Leone, for instance, were the data to be believed, disability prevalence falls from 16.6% among 17-year-olds to 0.3% among 18-year-olds. In short, we are unable to interpret average education outcomes for those with and without functional difficulties if having a functional difficulty is measured differently for individuals depending on their age.

Prevalence of disability, by age, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Tunisia, 2017-18

The issue of better data for monitoring progress, highlighting gaps and informing policy development will be discussed at the Conference on Education Data and Statistics being organized by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics in February in Paris.



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