Although access to education has steadily improved over the past 20 years, the number of children and young people excluded from education is still a major issue, and progress has slowed down, particularly in low and middle-income countries.(1) In 2018, 258 million, or one in six, children and youth were out of school.(2) Unfortunately, even when children access school, this does not necessarily mean they have access to quality learning. The impact of COVID-19 and school closures further hinders progress, with 1.6 billion children out of school globally at the peak of the pandemic(3), and widespread learning losses that may never be recovered.
Not all children are affected equally. Disability remains the main factor of exclusion, together with socio-economic status and the child’s gender.(5) In low-and-middle income countries, about 50% of children with disabilities are estimated to be out of school.(6) When multiple factors of discrimination intersect, the educational exclusion for millions of children with disabilities is amplified. For example, this is the case for many girls with disabilities who are forcibly displaced, whose multiple barriers to education often go unaddressed in both education and social protection policies and programmes.
In countries affected by conflicts, humanitarian disasters, socio economic crises, and political instability, children’s’ lived experiences of exclusion from education are compounded. For example, one in every five children in the Middle Eastern and North African region is not in school (representing a total of 15 million children),(7) compared to one in six as the global average.(8) An estimated 3 million of the 15 million out-of-school children would have been in school if the multiple crises affecting the region had never happened.
Within this context, the limited evidence available shows, for instance, that in Lebanon children with disabilities represent only 0.5% of children who are in school;(10) and in Egypt only 43% of persons with disabilities from 15 to 29 years old attended school, versus 89% of persons without disabilities.(11) Girls and women with disabilities in rural areas are reported to have the lowest rates of school attendance, educational attainment and literacy in the Middle Eastern region.
But behind these numbers there are real people, with their unique life experiences that give meaning to data and purpose to actions.