Estimated 38,000 children with disabilities in Kosovo are not attending school

25 July 2019
Portrait of Rijad Mehmeti

Pristina, 25 July 2019 – An estimated, 43,000 children with disabilities across Kosovo should be in school when schools open on 1st of September. However only roughly 5,300 are attending to regular schools. Fiona is a 13-year-old girl with a disability that lives in Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje, and this will be special year for her as she returns to school after three full years being out of school premises! This has become possible thanks to municipal education officials in creating solutions for Fiona and many other children with disabilities to get ready for the upcoming 2019 school year.

“On Wednesday, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNMIK Zahir Tanin launched a UNICEF poll of more than 5,000 young people from Kosovo on their perception of accessible and inclusive education for children like Fiona. UNICEF used its social platform “U-Report”, available via Facebook and Viber, to send out the poll, allowing young people to express their opinions on this topic and to be positive agents of change in their communities.”

59 per cent of the young people responded to poll expressing their perception as: Society in Kosovo is not generally inclusive. 39 per cent of young people identified the excluding mentality of the society as the biggest barrier for inclusion. Other barriers included lack of cash benefits (22 per cent), lack of services (14 per cent), lack of inclusive legislation and policies (14 per cent). Young people’s biggest request from Kosovo institution is provision of personal assistants at schools (33 per cent). Young people believe that provision of an adopted curricula for children with disabilities (30 per cent), assistive devices including wheelchairs (17 per cent), free transport to school (15 per cent) and Physio therapy (5 per cent) will further boost accessibility of education. Young people identified the biggest support for parents of children with disabilities as financial support (34 per cent), community support (24 per cent) and professionals services and trainings.

The right to education is firmly entrenched in the Constitution of Kosovo and through the alignment of its legislation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over time, enrolment in all levels of education in Kosovo have increased, yet the vast majority of children with disabilities do not enjoy this right. and many of them remain excluded from education system. As education is closely associated to better jobs, healthy life, social and economic security and opportunities for full participation in society, we know that those children with disabilities whose right to education is denied are likely to remain excluded from the society as well.

At the outset, the existence of social norms which tend to stigmatize people with disabilities makes the decision to want to go to school a tough one for parents and children. Once at school, despite the ongoing construction of new disability friendly educational facilities, a significant backlog of facilities without proper toilets, labs on the second floor and a lack of ramps remain as obstacles to achieving the right to education of children with disabilities. Making matters worse is the shortage of transport for such children and the lack of specialized equipment and trained special assistants and teachers to meet the needs and secure the rights of these children. There is little to no data on the situation of children with disability. MICS 2019 currently on the way is expected to provide more reliable data and the actual numbers. However, according to recent statistics published by MEST, the total number of students with a certified disability is 5,294, of which 41 per cent of are female and 59 per cent male. The fact that disabilities need to be certified to be recognized is problematic as there may be more children with emotional and learning difficulties who need additional support in school but are not certified. When children with disabilities do come to be assessed, a medical model is often relied upon, perpetuating the idea that they have problems that need to be fixed by health professionals, rather than addressing how each child can be supported to overcome barriers in society that limit them or how society should adjust to facilitate their lives so they too can enjoy the rights which every child is entitled to.

The types of disability identified in the school system include intellectual, physical, communicative, autism, emotional, Down syndrome, hearing and speech impairment. Children with disabilities are estimated to be roughly 2.1 per cent of students in school but are estimated to be around 15 per cent of the population based on global estimates for the prevalence of disability. This gives a rough idea of the extent to which they are excluded. This challenge may be multiplied if they come from poor households particularly living in a remote area or non-Serbian ethnic minorities.

Children with disabilities need to be in school and have their abilities recognized and developed. This is where they will be able to exercise their right to education and ultimately utilize their capacities for their own benefit as well as that of society. Head of UNICEF Office in Pristina, Murat Sahin, calls upon Kosovo Institutions to allocate adequate resources for hiring and training of more teachers and assistants while providing additional support for specialized equipment and facilities and ultimately facilitating the entry of those with disabilities into the labour market. In doing so there should be recognition that attending school is their right and not a favour or a charitable act.

Therefore, education should ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities. Further, this will also contribute to inclusive economic growth, as it is about achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including persons with disabilities.

Media contacts

Dafina Zuna
Head of Communications
UNICEF Kosovo Programme

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U-Report Results: Inclusion of Children with Disabilities


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