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Disabilities in Asia-Pacific

© Clovis Leong, Malaysia

The Asian-Pacific region has by far the largest number of people with disabilities in the world. Some 400 million people with disabilities live in the Asian and Pacific region. Most of them are poor, their concerns unknown and their rights overlooked. The majority of them are excluded from many social opportunities.

 

Traditionally children with disabilities have been overlooked and excluded from the education system. However, the idea that every child has a right to education has been gaining strength within the Asia-Pacific region. This right has been acknowledged by all East Asian and Pacific nations as signatories to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons began in 1993, and this was an important step towards inclusive education in the region. Targets were set for increasing enrolments of disabled children, including them in national Education for All planning and several other issues such as awareness raising and curricula revision.

Unfortunately while much progress in education has been made within the region, disabled children are still largely excluded. It is estimated that for the majority of countries in the region less than 10% of disabled children are enrolled in school. In some countries this figure is as low as 1-2% (UNICEF). These enrolment levels have increased as inclusive education becomes the accepted method of providing education to children with disabilities.

 

The Second Asia and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons began in 2003, and governments within the region made a significant commitment to ensuring education for children with disabilities. As part of this commitment the Biwako Millenium Framework sets out recommendations for regional policy for action and implementation. Seven areas for priority action were identified, and one of these was education for persons with disabilities. This section calls for governments to take action so that 75% of children and youths with disabilities are enrolled in school by 2010 and complete a full course of primary schooling.

 

Inclusive education is the most effective means to achieve these targets. This is the consensus among educationalists. Most countries in the region have networks of special schools but these reach a minority of children and youths with disabilities due to the large distances required to get to the special schools and high costs. These special schools also segregate disabled and non-disabled children. Often the result has been exclusion; ‘second-rate' educational opportunities that do not guarantee the possibility to continue studies, or segregation becoming a form of discrimination, leaving children with various needs outside the mainstream of school life and later, as adults, outside community social and cultural life in general. Inclusive education allows disabled children to study closer to home at lower costs, and has the potential to reach many more children within the region. It is also a more effective means of achieving non-discriminatory education.