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New Human Rights Watch Report on Barriers to Education in China for Persons with Disabilities

August 12, 2013

Two small children wearing backpacks walk on their knees beside an adultBy Steven Rodriguez

A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) provides insight into the inclusion of children with disabilities in the Chinese education system through their new report “As Long as They Let Us Stay in Class: Barriers to Education for Persons with Disabilities in China.” Despite China being a model for accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals in regard to primary education, there is a gap in enrollment rates for children with disabilities due to bars to enrollment, expulsion from schools, school segregation, and lack of disability rights information. In its closing summary, the report provides recommendations on how to make genuine inclusive education become a reality in China.

China ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008, thus committing itself to “the goal of full inclusion.” Although the government has made strides to support development and adoption of the CRPD, largely through the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities (LPDP) and the Regulations on the Education of People with Disabilities (REPD) and establishment of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), there is still room for improvement. According to the study, 28 percent of children with disabilities do not receive compulsory basic education; in contrast, children without disabilities receive near-universal compulsory education. Moreover, the burden is on the child with a disability to adapt to the current system in place within mainstream schools. Teachers are provided little support for classes of up to 60 students, and unable to cope with basic accommodations like magnified printed materials or testing accommodations for children who are blind or have limited vision. There is also a lack of accessible facilities like classrooms and bathrooms, requiring parents to pick up and carry their child up and down stairs. Parents have been found to have little to no knowledge of the existence of alternative special education schools, access to reasonable transportation, and even lack essential information about their child’s educational rights and options.

Finally, children with disabilities are typically segregated away in self-contained special education schools. While resources like funding for support and teacher quality for these schools are generally better, there are significant barriers, specifically around reasonable distance from the home, as well as knowledge about their existence. One story recounts a parent having to wait two years and provide a hefty bribe in order to get their child accepted into a special education school in another district. Even more pressing is that “many students with severe disabilities are excluded even from special education schools.” Moreover, special education schools have limited career fields available.

People with disabilities are China’s “largest minority,” with over 40 percent being illiterate; the estimated 83 million people with disabilities is far below the global disability prevalence rate estimated by the World Bank in 2011, which is 15%, and should be around 200 million for China. By ratifying the CRPD, the continued barriers to education faced by children and young people with disabilities need to be addressed with consistent strategies.

The Human Rights Watch report provides a list of key recommendations to help China move towards inclusion and compliance with the CRPD. These recommendations focus around governmental policy, mechanisms and programs

  • Revise the Regulations on the Education of People with Disabilities to bring them in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Specifically, the new regulations should state clearly that the Chinese government’s overarching goal in the education of people with disabilities is full inclusion at all levels of education and set forth specific actions authorities should take to ensure reasonable accommodation of students with disabilities in mainstream schools.
  •  Develop a time-bound, strategic plan to move towards an inclusive education system, with specific indicators to measure access to education for children with disabilities.
  • Immediately repeal the Guidelines for the Physical Examination of Students in Recruitment for Ordinary Higher Level Educational Institutions because they allow disability-based discrimination in higher education.
  • Develop guidelines for the effective evaluation of students with disabilities studying in mainstream schools and ensure that their educational progress is reflected in the performance assessment of their teachers and schools.
  • Provide financial and other resources, including adequately trained staff, to mainstream schools so that they can ensure the provision of reasonable accommodation to pupils and students with disabilities.
  • Establish an independent body made up of independent disability experts and representatives of children with disabilities and their parents to monitor the school system’s compliance with relevant laws and regulations and to receive complaints about discrimination and lack of reasonable accommodations at mainstream schools. The body should be charged with making recommendations for reform.

For more detailed information, you can check out the 75-page report here:

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