Only 4% of disabled children in Ethiopia receive an education, says Melaku Tekle, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development. So it may seem surprising that SYL is cooperating with the ECDD in Ethiopia on a development cooperation project to improve opportunities to complete a degree among local young people with disabilities. Although the work is currently focused on enabling young people who are already studying, it will also help the disabled students who come after them, and those currently at risk of full exclusion from education.
Tekle says that people with disabilities are a marginalized group in Ethiopia. A staggering 98% of them live in poverty. However, for people with disabilities too, education provides an escape route from poverty and helps them to find means of supporting themselves other than relying on charity. It is an investment that can break the vicious circle.
But just getting to a school does not mean that a proper education is guaranteed. Prejudices in higher education include the idea that people with disabilities cannot study ‘hard sciences’, only being suitable for the humanities or social sciences. It is preconceived notions like this that the ECDD and SYL are tackling. In addition to trying to change attitudes and with the help of funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the project is working on modifying the campus area to improve accessibility.
As I stated earlier, very few people with disabilities have access to education of any kind. Organizations and countries around the world are nevertheless working to ensure that more and more children can have an education. As very few have addressed the problem of higher education for people with disabilities, this is where SYL has found its development cooperation niche, so to speak.
Through higher education, people with disabilities can rise to various positions in society and contribute to decision-making that concerns themselves. Once students with disabilities are seen to be successful in their studies and working life, people’s attitudes will change – so it is worth ensuring that people with disabilities have access to high-quality education, starting from primary level. It is even more important to remember that education is a basic human right. Tekle points out that one of the objectives of sustainable development is securing an open, equal and high-quality education for everyone. That is why SYL and ECDD aim to promote the accessibility of education in three Ethiopian higher education institutions, and through lobbying in other parts of the country.