In general, initial progress towards inclusive education is rapid but then slows down until a core group of disabled and special education needs children in special schools remains. It has proven to be difficult to completely eliminate enrolment in special schools. However, the number of children in the region who are registered as having a disability and are reportedly receiving education services in special schools is rather small by comparison to totals. Out of the total 1.5 million children who are registered with a disability only 219,000 (14.5 per cent) attend special schools. It is likely that the remaining 1,281,000 children registered with disabilities – as well as the estimated 3.6 million children with disabilities who are not registered – encompass a large portion of those who are out of school or at risk of dropping out.
Large numbers of disabled children in the region are completely excluded from education, in particular those with intellectual disabilities and those who are disabled from birth. In Tajikistan, for example, around three quarters of school-aged children with disabilities do not attend any school. According to a UNICEF (2008) survey of the situation of disabled children in the Kyrgyzstan, it was found that 43.4 per cent were not going to school. In Kyrgyzstan, almost all the basic special education schools are in the two biggest cities Bishkek and Osh, and very few children have access to basic special education (Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia, 2010). The situation is worse in rural and remote areas where there are no nearby special education programmes for disabled children.
The participation of children with disabilities and special education needs at pre-school and secondary levels is even lower and has generally advanced less than enrolment in basic education.
Children with disabilities form one of UNICEF's priority target groups, one that is subject to severe discrimination, and exclusion from all social aspects of life, and in the CEE/CIS region, where most countries place great value on education, children with disabilities are often unaccounted for, unwelcome or simply ignored.
Discrimination and negative attitudes towards disability permeate the region and the language widely used to describe disability serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes and prevents full inclusion. For children with disabilities, institutionalization remains the overwhelming policy approach, in large part due to a long tradition of defectology, the academic discipline governing the care and treatment of children with disabilities in the region.
Defectology, which is based upon a medical approach in which children with disabilities are considered 'defective' from the norm, stands in direct contrast to the global moral imperative of a rights-based approach to education, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities goal 'to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.' The continued practices of classification of children according to a defective lens, and the prevalent practice of institutionalization, continue to promote and encourage discriminatory practices, exclusion and stigmatization of children with disabilities in the CEECIS region.