Access to education has improved significantly in Latin America. Primary education is virtually universal throughout the region. However, nearly 1 out of every 2 students in Latin America does not finish secondary school. Gaps in access to education persist among socioeconomic and ethnic groups, as well as between urban and rural communities.
Even taking all of this into account, having a disability is a strong predictor of one’s likelihood to be excluded from the education system, says Lena Johnson, an expert in inclusive education. In general, children with disabilities are less likely to start school. It is estimated that only 20% to 30% of all children and youth with disabilities in the region attend school.
Having a disability can be a greater barrier to accessing education than where you live, your gender, or your socio-economic status. We sat down with Johnson to debunk common myths about students with disabilities.
1. People with disabilities represent a very small segment of the population.
It is not correct. In Latin America and the Caribbean about 50 million people – 10% of the total population – live with a disability. Global estimates of the number of children (0-14 years) living with disabilities range between 93 million and 150 million.
2. Children with disabilities have the same opportunities to access and stay in school as everybody else.
The numbers suggest otherwise. In Latin America children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and least likely to go to school. It is estimated that only 20% to 30% of all children and youth with disabilities in the region attend school.
3. Children with and without disabilities can’t learn together.
Inclusive education is widely regarded as the desirable approach for ethical and educational reasons. The inclusion of children and youth with disabilities in regular schools – inclusive schools – can improve the quality of education for all students. Research shows that when students with disabilities are included, all students learn and achieve more.
4. Inclusive education means “one size fits all.”
Inclusion is based on the idea that school systems must respond to diversity in ways that allow all children to participate. Therefore, inclusion is not about “one size fits all,” but rather structures, systems and methodologies to meet the needs of ALL students by acknowledging and respecting differences. Unique needs and learning styles can be addressed by providing differentiated instruction and individualized supports to all students in the general education classroom.
5. There is no legal basis of support for inclusive education.
Education was declared a right for all children in the Universal Declaration of 1948. Recently, Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) states that persons with disabilities have a right to education which they must be able to exercise on the basis of equal opportunity.
6. People are born with disabilities.
People’s environments can have a huge effect on the prevalence and extent of disability. It is estimated that as many as 50% of disabilities are preventable and directly linked to poverty. Poor nutrition, dangerous working and living conditions, limited access to vaccination programs and to health and maternity care, poor hygiene, bad sanitation, inadequate information about the causes of impairments, war and conflict, and natural disasters can be causes of disability.
Many children are not born with a disability, but rather develop one later in life. The most common causes of physical disability are injuries from accidents; war and violence, birth trauma; and infectious diseases.