Differently abled & Access to Education: Is enough being done?

May 2015

We, at Development Solutions, are undertaking an assignment with SCORE Foundation, to enable skilling and employment of visually challenged persons across the country[1]. For the assignment, we were examining the data on population, school enrolment, education levels and employment among differently abled persons.

A recent article in ‘The Hindu’ reported a reduction in the enrolment of differently abled students in higher education, compared to last year. A survey by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) indicated that of the total students, only 0.56 percent are differently abled. The Government has stipulated a minimum quota of 3 percent seats for differently abled persons in higher education.

This low enrolment in the higher education didn’t seem surprising! We came across similar statistics while analysing drop-out rates among visually challenged persons.

While the Census 2011 reports 55 percent literacy among differently abled persons; we found an entirely different picture from the District Information System for Education (DISE) data.

The DISE provides data on enrolment by type of disability up-to class 8. Using this, we approximated the enrolment and drop out from class 10 to 12, among visually challenged persons. This analysis was done for 8 states including Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, UP and MP. Our analysis found that a staggering 69 percent students drop out from class 10 to 12. In other words, many differently abled children drop out just before finishing their schooling.

The DISE data for elementary education also reveals that in 2013-14, only 1.3 percent of the total children were differently abled in primary education (class I -V); and only 1.2 percent in upper primary (class VI – VIII). Specifically in Government schools, the enrolment has been less than 1 percent for over a decade. The situation is particularly severe in states such as UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan, who despite having a greater number of differently abled children, have poor school enrolment.

Despite the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which guarantees ‘free and compulsory education’ for all between the ages of 6 – 14 years, the enrolment of the differently abled children has remained consistently low. Interestingly, from the DISE data, it appears that the enrolment of differently abled students has actually gone down since the introduction of RTE from 1,384,116 children in 2008-09 to 831,497 children in 2011-12.

The low enrolment and low retention of the differently abled children appears to signal the failure of the efforts to mainstream these children. People we spoke to said that as the children go to higher classes, access to schools becomes an issue. In addition, many of them face neglect and discrimination from fellow students and teachers in schools.

Unschooled, unskilled, many are entirely dependent on the support of their family and relatives. Many of the differently abled are thus denied a dignified life.

There have been various efforts both by the Government and the civil society to address the needs of the differently abled. It appears that these efforts are not adequate. What could be the newer ways to ensure that the differently abled are part of the mainstream, in schools and in employment? ….. We hope to explore some of these aspects as we go along.

[1] SCORE Foundation is a not for profit organisation that has for over 12 years been working with and for visually challenged persons in India.