Table of contents:
Education (SDG 4)
The rate of literacy in the Arab region is considerably lower for persons with disabilities than for persons without disabilities. In Oman, where the gap is widest, only 31.2 per cent of all persons with disabilities are literate, whereas the rate among persons without disabilities, 87 per cent, is almost three times as high. Gender and location are also negatively correlated with literacy, and women with disabilities in rural areas are invariably the most affected group (see figure 11). In the eight countries for which data is available, their literacy rates vary between 6.7 per cent (Yemen) and 28.4 per cent (Palestine). Men without disabilities in urban areas, on the other hand, are in all countries the most literate group, with rates ranging from 79.3 per cent (Jordan) to 97.6 per cent (Palestine).
Figure 11: Percentage of the population aged 15 and above who are literate
Source: Calculated from Arab Disability Statistics in Numbers 2017, based on data compiled and verified from National Statistics Offices (NSOs) from the following censuses and surveys: Egypt Labor Force Survey (LFS) 2016, Iraq Poverty and Maternal Mortality Survey (I-PMM) 2013, Jordan Census 2015, Mauritania Census 2013, Morocco Census 2014, Oman Census 2010, Palestine Census 2007, Yemen Household Budget Survey (HBS) 2014.
Note: For Palestine, urban includes areas categorized as camps in the data source. For Jordan, the data include a high proportion of persons without disabilities whose literacy status has not been stated – see country profile.
In all countries except Mauritania, women with disabilities in urban areas have the second lowest literacy rate, and men with disabilities in rural areas the third lowest. In Egypt, there is large gap between the rates for women with disabilities in rural areas (18.8 per cent) and for women with disabilities in urban areas (40.9 per cent).The latter rate is almost as high as that of men with disabilities in rural areas (42.2 per cent). The fact that women with disabilities in rural areas have such a low literacy rate compared to each of these two other groups underlines their particular vulnerability. Similar patterns can be seen in other countries, such as Morocco. In Oman, on the other hand, there is a relatively small gap between the literacy rates for women with disabilities in rural and urban areas (respectively 15.9 per cent and 21.6 per cent), whereas the rate for men with disabilities in rural areas is considerably higher at 34.7 per cent.
In Mauritania, notably, the literacy rate for men without disabilities in rural areas (49.8 per cent) is lower than the one for women with disabilities in urban areas (52 per cent). In all other countries, the literacy rate for men without disabilities in rural areas is at least twice as high as the one for women with disabilities in urban areas – in Oman it is more than four times higher. These figures suggest that although location, gender and disability are clearly factors of vulnerability in all countries, the relative impact of each varies considerably.
It is important that literacy data be considered in light of the age-disability nexus. The proportion of children who learn to read has increased steadily in the Arab region during the last fifty years. Consequently, the regional literacy rate today is much higher among the young than among the old. As of 2016, according to UNESCO, 90 per cent of youth aged 15-24 were literate, compared to only 53 per cent of older persons aged 65 and above. Among older persons, the female literacy rate is more than twenty percentage points lower than that of males, whereas the difference between the rates for female and male youth is a mere two points. The fact that the average age of persons with disabilities, especially women, is very high may in part explain why their literacy rates are so low.
Furthermore, the relative difference in literacy rates between persons with and without disabilities appears more considerable in those countries where persons with disabilities are particularly overrepresented among older persons, such as Oman and Morocco. However, data disaggregated by disability, literacy and age are not available, which makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the impact of each factor.
Persons with disabilities in the Arab region are significantly less likely than persons without disabilities to have attained any form of education (figure 12). As with literacy, the biggest difference is found in Oman, where the proportion of persons without disabilities attained International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) level 1 or higher (81.6 per cent) is more than four times as high as the proportion of persons with disabilities who have done so (20.3 per cent). By comparison, in Jordan the rate of persons without disabilities having attained ISCED level 1 or higher (78.6 per cent) is only 1.6 times higher than the rate among persons with disabilities (48.7 per cent). Again, a certain correlation can be discerned between, on the one hand, a large gap between the attainment rates of persons with and without disabilities, and, on the other hand, a strong overrepresentation of persons with disabilities among older persons.
Figure 12: Educational attainment
Source: Calculated from Arab Disability Statistics in Numbers 2017, based on data compiled and verified from National Statistics Offices (NSOs) from the following censuses and surveys: Bahrain Census 2010, Egypt Labor Force Survey (LFS) 2016, Iraq Poverty and Maternal Mortality Survey (I-PMM) 2013, Jordan Census 2015, Mauritania Census 2013, Morocco Census 2014, Oman Census 2010, Palestine Census 2007, Saudi Arabia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2016, Yemen Household Budget Survey (HBS) 2014.
Note: Ages are 5+ for Bahrain, Mauritania, Morocco and Yemen, 6+ for Egypt and Iraq, 10+ for Oman, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, and 13+ for Jordan. Morocco has a single category for ISCED levels 4-6 (see country profiles).
The data also show that persons with disabilities tend to be particularly underrepresented among the population with higher educational attainment. In Palestine for instance, the proportion of persons without disabilities who have attained any form of education (82.5 per cent) is 2.1 times higher than the proportion of persons without disabilities having done so (39.6 per cent), but the proportion of attainment at ISCED levels 5 or 6 is 3.6 times higher among persons without disabilities (8.3 per cent) than among persons with disabilities (2.3 per cent). The main exception from this pattern is Mauritania, where the underrepresentation of persons with disabilities progressively declines from levels 1 to 4.
Again, location and gender have an unmistakable impact. Women with disabilities in rural areas invariably have the highest rate of non-attainment, exceeding 80 per cent in most countries, whereas the rates for men without disabilities in urban areas are usually below 20 per cent. Women with disabilities in urban areas are the second most disadvantaged group in all countries except Mauritania and Morocco, where men with disabilities in rural areas are. Not surprisingly, the educational attainment rates for different subgroups in large part reflect literacy rates. In Mauritania, the non-attainment rates for women and men with disabilities in rural areas are very similar, at 91.2 per cent and 87.7 per cent, respectively. In Palestine, on the other hand, there is a much larger gap between the two rates at 80.7 and 52.6 per cent. Again, Mauritania appears to be the only country where women with disabilities in urban areas (who have a non-attainment rate of 71.8 per cent) fare better than men without disabilities in rural areas (61.2 per cent).
In many countries, data on school attendance depict somewhat smaller discrepancies between persons with and without disabilities than the data on literacy and educational attainment, possibly indicating a positive development. In Oman, as shown in figure 12, the proportion of persons without disabilities having attained some form of education is more than four times higher than the proportion of persons with disabilities. Yet, as seen in figure 13, the attendance rate of children in Oman without disabilities aged 5-14 years (92.7 per cent) is only 2.3 times higher than that of children with disabilities (40.3 per cent) – possibly indicating that the gap, though still extremely wide, is closing.
Figure 13: School attendance
Source: Calculated from Arab Disability Statistics in Numbers 2017, based on data compiled and verified from National Statistics Offices (NSOs) from the following censuses and surveys: Bahrain Census 2010, Egypt Labor Force Survey (LFS) 2016, Iraq Poverty and Maternal Mortality Survey (I-PMM) 2013, Mauritania Census 2013, Morocco Census 2014, Oman Census 2010, Palestine Census 2007, Yemen Household Budget Survey (HBS) 2014.
Note: For Iraq and Egypt, the younger age group is 6-14.
That said, the attendance of persons with disabilities remains strikingly lower than that of persons without disabilities. Importantly, while in all groups there is a significant drop in school attendance from ages 5-14 years to 15-24 years, persons with disabilities are particularly underrepresented among students aged 15-24, indicating a higher dropout rate and lower level of higher educational attainment. In Egypt, for example, the attendance rate for persons with disabilities is 3.3 times higher in the younger age span (45.2 per cent) than in the older one (13.6 per cent). Among persons without disabilities, meanwhile, the attendance rate is only 1.7 times higher in the younger age span (94.2 per cent) than in the older (53.9 per cent).
Almost without exception, girls and women with disabilities in rural areas have the lowest attendance rates, as well as the lowest graduation rates. Most strikingly, in Yemen only 1.8 per cent of women with disabilities in rural areas aged 15-24 attend school. Notably, this rate is extremely low in comparison to the rate for men with disabilities in rural areas (15.1 per cent), women without disabilities in rural areas (19.8 per cent) and women with disabilities in urban areas (32.1 per cent). In Palestine, in contrast, girls and women with disabilities do not have the lowest attendance rates in either of the two age groups. This is surprising, given the data above which indicates that women with disabilities in rural areas in Palestine have the lowest rates of literacy and educational attainment.
Persons with disabilities encounter a multitude of barriers to schooling. The hurdle may, in many cases, be due to misconceptions among family members about the nature of disability and a lack of understanding about the needs and capacities of persons with disabilities, resulting in neglect or discouragement. When going to school, students with disabilities often have to navigate poor transport, road infrastructure and inaccessible educational facilities. At school, classmates may be insensitive to differences and even perpetuate stigma and isolation. Teachers tend to lack training on how to accommodate diverse needs. Even if they have received training, they may not have the necessary resources (such as teaching aids or adapted curricula) to deliver appropriate instruction. Schools lack the funding for support programmes and specialized support personnel to prepare students with disabilities for courses and to retain them once they are enrolled.
It is critical to remember that attendance rates do not reveal whether the education is inclusive and/or of good quality, in line with the targets of SDG 4 and Article 24 of the Convention. If these criteria are not met, higher attendance rates among persons with disabilities do not necessarily translate into better learning outcomes in terms of, for example, literacy, nor in a higher social awareness about the rights and capacities of persons with disabilities. It is also important to bear in mind that the data on attendance do not tell us whether education comes at a direct or indirect financial cost to persons with disabilities and their families, bearing in mind that both the 2030 Agenda and the Convention call for education to be free at least at the primary and secondary levels.
There are three main approaches to educating students with disabilities: segregated in special school settings, integrated where they join mainstream institutions but have to adapt to the system, and inclusive where the educational system accommodates the students. The SDGs and the Convention, in letter and in spirit, call on States to promote the inclusive model in so far as this conforms to the interests and wishes of persons with disabilities. However, ensuring that the needs of persons with disabilities are accommodated in mainstream educational institutions – for instance, by adapting the facilities and by ensuring that the school personnel are properly qualified – may be a lengthy process requiring consultation and financial resources. If this processed is rushed, the quality of the education risks being compromised.
Furthermore, sometimes persons with disabilities themselves prefer a segregated approach. While it is possible for hard-of-hearing students to participate in mainstream schools with the use of hearing aids, deaf persons have expressed a preference for an environment where the main mode of communication is sign language and where they are not excluded from daily conversation and engagement.
In the Arab world, a variety of education services have been established for different types of impairments, initially by the private sector (both non-profit and for profit) with gradually increasing government involvement. Despite growing appeals for the inclusion of students with disabilities, especially following the ratification of the Convention, segregation persists in most countries. Relatively little research and evaluation has been done to investigate the impact and effectiveness of the three education models in the region. The resultant lack of information about the services and their outcomes impedes both advocates and policymakers from making well informed decisions.
Although the age-disability nexus in part explains the fact that persons with disabilities’ rates of literacy and educational attainment are low and suggests that these rates could be expected to progressively rise, this does not mean that the current situation for older persons is acceptable. Older persons, with or without disabilities, have the same right to participation, information and independence as everybody else. Being able to read and write is not less important to them than to others. It is therefore important that educational opportunities are expanded and improved for adults as well as for youth.