What is the issue?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, children with disabilities were already among the most excluded from learning. Nearly 49% of children with disabilities worldwide were likely to have never attended school, and even if they did, they were usually less likely to progress or receive proper support within the school system. Girls with disabilities often experience double discrimination based on their gender and disability, facing even more barriers to participating fully in society.
We know pandemic-related school closures disrupted lives of millions of children around the world, but for many children with disabilities the impact has been devastating. Schools are integral to the life and wellbeing of all children, as places for learning, personal development, socialising and receiving other vital services including meals and hygiene care. But the sudden shift to remote schooling often left children with disabilities unable to continue learning and cut them from the benefits of the school environment.
Pre-existing digital inequalities have worsened. While more than 90% of countries offered some form of distance learning, at least 31% of children were unable to benefit from this due to limited access to internet and technology, inaccessible tools, or lack of access to tools.
Children with disabilities already faced numerous barriers to learning and by not including them in the pandemic recovery, they risk being left behind for good. The window of time to enact change and get back on track to achieve SDG4 is narrowing.
Takyiwa Danso is Sightsavers’ inclusive education policy officer, based in the UK.