The Department for International Development (DFID) has published a guidance note on ‘Education for children with disabilities: improving access and quality’. The document is intended as a guide for DFID country offices, setting out the background to the issue and the commitments DFID has to inclusive education, and then giving practical guidance on how to support developing countries to implement inclusive education.
Of the 72 million children who are out of school in the world, UNESCO estimates that one third are disabled children. As DFID’s guidance note points out, this means that there is no chance of achieving Millennium Development Goal 2, to ensure all girls and boys can complete a full basic education by 2015, without ensuring that the needs of disabled children are addressed.
While DFID has fairly strong central policies on education and disability, as we highlighted in our report ‘DFID, Disability and Education: bridging the implementation gap’ earlier this year the implementation of DFID programmes in developing countries is very decentralised. While this is largely a positive thing – it is very important for DFID programmes to be sensitive to country situations – it does mean that there is often an inconsistency between DFID policy at head office and the reality of the programmes that are implemented in-country.
In the field of education for children with disabilities, this has led to widespread neglect of this vital issue, sometimes even in countries that have government commitments to inclusive education. In fact, all DFID PSA countries (the countries in which DFID focuses its activities) except for Afghanistan and Zimbabwe have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which includes several provisions binding countries to provide inclusive education for people with disabilities, and also binding donor countries to assist their partners to implement these commitments.
The guidance note, which twice quotes from our report, is a good step in the direction of ensuring all country offices are aware of their responsibilities to support inclusive education, and therefore to breaking down the barriers keeping millions of children out of school. However, it will be crucial to monitor how it is distributed and used. In June Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP told Parliament that the guidance note would be ‘disseminated to country offices, development partners and international non-governmental organisations and will be available on the DFID website.’ We now need to ensure that country offices are actively encouraged and indeed required to put the guidance into practice.