Disabled students are not a homogeneous group – it is more challenging to strive for higher education from rural areas

On our previous blogs on development cooperation, we have presented a development cooperation project in Zambia, which is implemented by a local organization, the Vilole Image Productions. The mission of the project is to improve the status of higher education students with disabilities and increase the level of inclusion in higher education institutions. In this task, it is important to note that disabled students are not a uniform group, but the background of the individual significantly affects his or her study opportunities. On average, disabled students are in a weaker position than non-disabled students, but, for example, disabled women and those living in rural areas have fewer opportunities to study at higher education institutions than disabled men living in cities.

Girls and women are in a more difficult position than men 

The Zambian National Disability Survey, published in 2015, sheds light on the situation. Of the disabled men who responded to the survey, only 12 percent felt that they were able to study as far as they would have liked. For women with disabilities, this figure dropped to less than six percent. In the case of persons without disabilities, the numbers are similar and overall 85 percent of respondents felt that they had not been able to study sufficiently and to the level they wanted.

The situation is challenging as the numbers show. It is known that good education and the inclusion of all the different groups in a society in education creates the conditions for the fair growth of society and for changing norms and attitudes for the better. Both Zambia and Finland are committed to the Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Another goal of the UN Agenda 2030, which plays an important role in both Finland’s development policy and the Zambia project, is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Women and girls are often in a weaker position due to, for example, prevailing attitudes. In the 2015 survey, 15 percent of women answered that they were directly denied access to higher education. Based on the answers, there was no similar phenomenon for men. In the Zambia project, special attention is given to that the project’s activities also reach female students at higher education institutions.

Of course, a lot of work has to be done to achieve equality between the sexes, and an important part of this work is the change in the opinions and values of people and the larger society. The cooperation project in Zambia aims to its own share of work in support this development.

It is more difficult to reach higher education from rural areas

At the center of the goals of Agenda 2030 is the elimination of extreme poverty from the world. Poverty causes several challenges to in the struggle to achieve a better and dignified standard of living. For example, a child or young adult has to end his or hers education too early because he or she is required to help support the family. In addition, the costs associated with going to school may simply be too high. Especially in rural areas, it is common that family work requires a lot of labour, which makes it challenging to leave for higher education. The education goal of Agenda 2030 aims for equal opportunities for everyone to participate in education. Poverty is one thing that hinders the achievement of this goal and the accessibility of education is significantly affected by the difference between living in a city or rural area. Around 19 percent of disabled people who responded to the 2015 survey had participated in higher education, but for those living in rural areas, the figure dropped to four percent.

It is difficult to eliminate the differences between rural and urban areas completely, because there are limited resources and there are only so many higher education institutions. However, in terms of accessibility and equality, it is important to keep in mind that all of the support given is not concentrated in the capital, but that cities in the provinces also receive their share of the support. For this reason, it is important for the cooperation project that, in addition the the capital Lusaka, the project is implemented in threeother cities in different provinces of the country so that people with disabilities coming from the countryside of the region have less pressure to move to the capital.

Hatim Snidate
Member of SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board

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