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New United Nations survey highlights ways in which India's education system fails disabled children

A recent report by the United Nations shows that a shockingly high number of children with disabilities in India have never attended school. The situation is far worse for girls. The report has come at a time when the government has been widely slammed for its new draft education policy which does not take into account the needs of children with disabilities.

India has over 78 lakh children with disabilities in the age group of five to 19 years. This is a significant presence, one that has the potential to be a huge resource provided they are given the opportunity to study and grow. However, this is not happening as a new report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has underlined.

The survey report by the UNESCO in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai says that 27% of children with disabilities in this crucial age group have never attended school while 12% have dropped out from the institutions they had enrolled in.

The study also says the situation is worse for disabled girls. UNESCO has asked the government to take urgent steps to address this gap and follow the provisions of the RPWD Act 2016 that states all children with disabilities, regardless of their economic backgrounds, must get an education.

Lack of accessibility, points out disability rights activist Murali Dharan, is one of the main reasons why disabled children are getting left out.

There are various issues regarding enrolment of a disabled student into schools. One of the main ones is accessibility. Also, a disabled child is unable to reach school due to lack of provisions to get them there. Those who attend are forced to leave early or drop out even before they complete education. This is a case of huge concern because they are left out of the education system and are unable to contribute towards economic development of the country-Murali Dharan, General Secretary, National Platform for Rights of Disabled

Most disabled children opt for home-based education but this is on paper. A large proportion are denied even this due to lack of special educators, especially in rural areas. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme, every disabled child must be provided with access to a special educator at home if needed. Meenakshi Balasubramanian, member of Equals Centre for Promotion and Justice says its high time the government got aggressive about improving access to and quality of education for children with disabilities.

"We recently did a survey in Tamil Nadu as a part of a project where we found that home-based education is of low quality. This is available to disabled children only but it is imposed by the system. Neither parent nor students make the choice. There is no accountability in the growth and development of the kids. They are completely left out, says Meenakshi.

The study says children with visual and hearing impairments are even worse off. Adding to the problem is the lack of awareness among parents of children with disabilities.

ALSO READ: New education policy roundly slammed for promoting inequality, discrimination

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