More than one in four children with disabilities between ages 5 and 19 in India have never attended any educational institution, while three-fourths of five-year-olds with disabilities are not in school.
A report by UNESCO and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences released on Wednesday recommends structural, funding and attitudinal changes to ensure that no child is left out of the right to education.
Citing 2011 census data, the report showed that there are more than 78 lakh children with disabilities in the country between 5-19 years. Only 61% of them were attending an educational institution. About 12% had dropped out, while 27% had never been to school at all.
“The number of children [with disabilities] enrolled in school drops significantly with each successive level of schooling. There are fewer girls with disabilities in school than boys,” says the report. In 2014-15, there were more than 15 lakh children with disabilities in primary school. Two years later, enrolment had dropped by more than two lakh, data shows. At the higher secondary school level, there were less than 63,000 such children in 2016-17.
Differences remain among various types of disabilities. Only 20% of children with visual and hearing impairments had never been in school. However, among children with multiple disabilities or mental illness, that figure rose to more than 50%.
Experts say the situation is worse than what the statistics show as the government data on enrolment includes home-based education, which often exists only on paper for children with disabilities. “In many parts of rural India, if a parent opts for home-based education, the child may not be getting an education at all. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan teacher is supposed to visit and check, but how often does that happen? The number of excluded children is much higher than government data shows,” said Arman Ali, executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, who was part of the editorial board overseeing the report.
“The Right to Education Act mandates enrolment, but not the provision of resources needed for the actual education of a child with disabilities,” pointed out Susheela Jeliya, a disabilities specialist with World Vision India.
Amendments to the RTE Act, 2009 to make it align with the Right of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 are among the major recommendations of the report.