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Education: Children with disabilities are being left behind, says World Bank/GPE report

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2017 – Children with disabilities are being left behind by global efforts to improve education opportunities for all, as gaps between children with and without disabilities have increased dramatically in developing countries, according to new research from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) released ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The study, Disability Gaps in Educational Attainment and Literacy, found that primary school completion for children with disabilities in 19 developing countries* is just 48 percent, and as many as three in ten children with disabilities have never been in school. The study, based on analysis of census data, also found that literacy rates and secondary school completion lag considerably behind: Only six in ten children with disabilities can read and write, and only a third complete secondary school.

“Ensuring that all children have the same opportunities to go to school and learn should be a top priority to end the persistent learning crisis. More than gender or socio-economic status, disability has an outsize impact on a child’s opportunities to learn,” said Quentin Wodon, World Bank lead economist and co-author of the study. “As we work with countries to increasingly invest in their people, it’s critical that children with disabilities are not left behind.”

The gaps between children with and without disabilities have increased substantially over the last 30 to 40 years. Children with disabilities have largely been excluded from efforts to improve education outcomes in the developing world. For example, despite high primary school enrollment in many of the countries covered by the report, the gap in primary school completion between disabled and non-disabled children stands at 15 percentage points for girls and 18 percentage points for boys.

The report demonstrates that these gaps are the result of exclusion associated with disabilities, as opposed to other characteristics of children that could be correlated with disabilities. The report also finds that children with intellectual or multiple disabilities tend to fare worse than children with physical disabilities or disabilities related to hearing, seeing, or speech. According to experts, access to school for children with disabilities is often limited by a lack of understanding about their needs, a shortage of trained teachers, as well as a lack of adequate facilities, classroom support and learning resources.

"When children with disabilities can realize their right to education, it will have a lifelong and positive impact on their learning, achievement and employment opportunities, contributing both to their own development as well as to the economic, social and human development of their communities and countries,” said Louise Banham, senior education advisor at the GPE. “GPE is working closely with its partners to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in education systems.”

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for inclusive and equitable quality education, with the aim of ensuring equal access to all levels of education for the vulnerable, including disabled children. The SDGs call for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive, and also provide safe, inclusive and effective learning environments.

As part of its efforts to promote inclusive education and ensure that all children have the chance to succeed in life, the World Bank is working to design and implement inclusive education strategies, finance projects, and provide advisory support, in countries including China, India, Malawi, Moldova, Tunisia, and Vietnam.

The Global Partnership for Education also provides developing countries with funding and guidance to develop and implement robust education sector plans that include strategies to close the gap between access, participation and learning, to ensure that children with disabilities can go to school and learn.

*The 19 countries included in the report are: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, Peru, South Africa, South Sudan, Vietnam, and Zambia.


For more information, please visit:

World Bank Education

Global Partnership for Education




PRESS RELEASE NO: 2018/080/Education


Patricia da Camara
World Bank
+1 (202) 473-4019
Alexandra Humme
Global Partnership for Education
+1 (202) 458-5511