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Education for children with disabilities in India

In recent years the Government of India has changed various policies and laws to enable young people with disabilities to receive education. However, conflicting goals and a lack of clarity still affect disabled young people’s experiences and outcomes of education.

According to the India office of the World Bank, Indian children with disabilities are five and a half times more likely to be out of school than non-disabled children. Those who do attend school rarely progress beyond the primary school level. Currently, 52 percent of adults with disabilities are illiterate, compared to 35 percent amongst the general Indian population.

A boy, who is blind in his left eye, doing his homework in Surumunda Village, Orissa, India. Mikkel Ostergaard, Panos Pictures, 2006People with disabilities face many barriers within and outside the Indian school system. The Disability, Education and Poverty Project, a part of the Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty (RECOUP), interviewed young people with disabilities and their parents from poor households in Madhya Pradesh. They were identified using a range of methods, including a household census, referrals and tracer studies. These interviews give insights into the experiences of schooling and its perceived benefits.

The young people interviewed were first generation learners with different levels of education, selected across three impairment types: visual, hearing and physical. Among them, a majority of those who attended mainstream schools said they were unable to cope due to inadequate resources, the inability and unwillingness of teachers to teach them, and the irrelevance of the curriculum. These inadequacies of mainstream education have also been highlighted in other school-based research in India.

Although only four of them had steady employment, young people who had attended school placed great faith in the merits of being educated. Parents hoped education would help their children to get jobs and reduce their dependency on families. While young people valued the prospect of employment, they also focused strongly on the ‘softer outcomes’ of education:


  • Young people with at least eight years of schooling spoke about increased self-confidence in managing the world around them.

  • They had wider and stronger social networks and friends. 

  • They were articulate in challenging negative views of disability and questioned issues, such as the lack of employment opportunities and medical assistance which would help them as adults. 

  • They all valued the respect and dignity that being educated brought them in social interactions.

The voices of these young people highlight the important role education plays in their lives. Contrary to common belief, parents also were keen on sending their children with disabilities to school. Parents did not incur any loss of income as these children were not seen as viable workers and through education they hoped for long-term gains.

More children with disabilities can enter and participate in the Indian education system.


  • Schools need simultaneous reforms in professional development, alongside a change in the attitudes and beliefs of teachers. 

  • The curriculum delivered in schools should be more relevant and not focus merely on developing skills for the labour market. For a more holistic educational experience it should also foster positive self regard and social worth. 

  • Better opportunities will help people with disabilities enter employment. For example, government provisions, such as job reservations can be made more transparent and enabling. 

  • General public awareness about the rights and entitlements of people with disabilities has to increase. The state and the nongovernment organisations will need to work together on this. 

  • Different stakeholders in schools, such as teachers, need to be more aware and involved. For example, in this research many teachers were the catalysts helping young people access various benefits.

Nidhi Singal
University of Cambridge,
184 Hills Road, Cambridge,
T +44 1223 767608

RECOUP is a partnership of seven institutions from Ghana, India and Pakistan, Kenya and the UK, coordinated by the University of Cambridge. Established with DFID funding in 2005, it is a five-year research programme which examines the impact of education on the lives and livelihoods of people in developing countries, particularly those living in poorer areas and from poorer households.

See also

“With education you can do anything: without education there’s nothing you can do”: outcomes of schooling for young people with disabilities
N. Singal; R. Jeffery; A. Jain / Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty 2009
This paper analyses data on how disabled young people in urban and rural India understand the role played by education in their lives. The research aimed to gain access to the voices, views, feelings and experiences of the young peopl...
People with disabilities in India: from commitments to outcomes
P. O'Keefe / World Bank 2007
There is growing evidence that people with disabilities comprise a sizable group of the Indian population. This report explores their social and economic situation and discusses the required public and private sector interventions des...