International Literacy Day: Disability, Education and the SDGs
The ability to read and write is hugely powerful. Women who can read have fewer children later in life, and the children they do have are much more likely to survive. Being literate helps people to find jobs, access information and make decisions about their lives.
Today, on International Literacy Day (8th September), we think about the 781 million adults who cannot read, write or count, and about what needs to be done to make sure that they have the opportunities to gain these valuable skills.
While the data is poor, we know that people with disabilities often have lower levels of literacy than people without disabilities. This is hardly surprising when you consider that in developing countries, as many as 9 out of 10 children with disabilities do not go to school.
In the last 15 years there has been a huge global effort to get more children enrolled in primary school. This has led to a drop in the number of children out of school from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million today. While this progress is huge, many children with disabilities have been left behind. In many low and middle income countries, having a disability more than doubles the chance of a child not going to school. In Nepal for example, 85% of children out of school have a disability.
If they do attend school, children living with disabilities are often more likely to drop out and leave school early. They are also less likely to be able to learn – because schools are not correctly equipped, teachers are not trained or because they are discriminated against. Often getting children in to school and making sure they have the opportunity to learn vital skills such as reading and writing involves small changes; in teaching methods, in physical accessibility or even just in attitude.
Illiteracy among adults with disabilities is even more prevalent than among children, because those who are adults today were less likely to attend school that today’s children. To address this, adult literacy programmes need to be inclusive of people with disabilities. More broadly, we need to make sure that information is provided in alternative formats so that those who are unable to read can still access it.
Goal 4 in the new Sustainable Development Goals recognises the importance of inclusive education and promotes learning for all, including lifelong learning. This is a huge step forward and an important opportunity to ensure that people with disabilities have the same chance to become literate as their non-disabled peers. CBM is advocating that in the indicators that measure the new goals school enrolment is broken down by disability. Because only when we have good data about how many children with disabilities are not in school will we really be able to reach them all. We are also advocating for an indicator on the number of trained teachers to teach children with special educational needs; because getting children into school is not enough.
We often talk about the cycle of poverty and disability, the fact that disability causes poverty, and poverty causes disability. Literacy is one way of breaking this cycle – because when people learn to read and write they are more able to participate in society and have the power to change their own lives.