India has one of the strongest disability-inclusive educational frameworks in the world, and enrolment rates have been increasing in many states, but a new report by the University of Cambridge says schools remain ill prepared to effectively include children with disabilities.

The report, titled Inclusive Quality Education for Children With Disabilities, has been authored by Nidhi Singal and Hannah Ware (Cambridge) and Shweta Khanna Bhutani (Delhi University).

There has been an approximately 16% increase in the numbers of children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream primary schools over the last five years, but the report says children with disabilities are most likely to be excluded.

“They are also most likely to drop out before completing five years of primary schooling and are least likely to transition to secondary school or higher education,” said Singal, reader in education at Cambridge.

“Countries — both developed and developing economies — need to do more to ensure that children with disabilities not only access education, but also benefit from quality education,” she added.

The report says while strong policies and programmes exist in relation to the education of children with special needs, there continues to be a large number of children who remain out of school.

It highlights four factors essential to achieve inclusive education in India — training of mainstream teachers, the importance of special educators, the use of cost-effective teaching aids and adaptations to the school infrastructure, and supporting children with disabilities in mainstream school.

“Evidence from the field notes low levels of confidence and lack of clarity among mainstream teachers in relation to teaching children with disabilities. While teachers don’t necessarily have negative attitudes, poor infrastructure, large class sizes, lack of para-professional staff, lack of competence, and academic achievement are challenges experienced by them toward inclusion of children with disabilities,” the report says.

According to Singal, learning for children with disabilities remains a significant challenge across the globe.

“In order to address this, we need to invest in inclusive teaching and learning processes and not just changes to school infrastructure. Teachers need better training and support underpinned by principles of inclusion. Significantly, children with disabilities must be respected as important partners in creating better schools for all,” she said.