Disabilities, the Pandemic, and the Pursuit of Tertiary Education

Claudia Martinez A.

Claudia Martinez A.

Over the last two decades, Chile has made efforts to boost educational inclusion in schools among young people with disabilities, extending opportunities to this vulnerable group which tends to have lower labor force participation, employment and wages in part because of a significant educational gap.

Today, around two-thirds of students with disabilities attend mainstream schools in Chile. Additional funding through the School Integration Program (Programa de Integración Escolar, PIE) has enabled the hiring of support staff, the training of teachers, and the acquisition of assistive devices, among other contributions. As a result, the difference in primary and secondary enrolment for children with and without disabilities is today less than 2 percentage points in Chile—the smallest gap in Latin America and the Caribbean, and about 80% of students with disabilities complete secondary school.

Despite these successes, the country still lacks a national program for inclusion of students with disabilities in tertiary education, and there is a wide gap at that level. Students with disabilities are nearly 16 percentage points less likely to transition to post-secondary education, which is significantly correlated with high quality jobs.

The Impact of the Pandemic

The pandemic may have worsened this predicament for students with disabilities.  Latin America and the Caribbean was the region most affected by school closures, with a country average of 158 days of school closures between March 2020 and February 2021. Substantial research documents the detrimental effects of this disruption on learning. Students with disabilities in Chile were further limited by interruptions in the assessment of and adaptation to their needs and support of the integration program itself through distance teaching.

We decided to try to quantify the impact of the pandemic on this group in order to address barriers to learning and participation that can be exacerbated during a crisis and further harm their opportunities. In a recent study, Maria Ignacia Contreras, Suzanne Duryea and I compared the trajectories of students with and without disabilities before and after the pandemic. We specifically looked at the probability that they would take the general admission test for tertiary education and enroll in a high-quality tertiary institution.  Read more…

Claudia Martinez A.

Claudia Martinez A.

Claudia Martínez A. es Lead Economist del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo. Realizó su PhD en economía en la Universidad de Michigan y es economista de la Universidad de Chile. Sus áreas de especialización son el desarrollo económico y las finanzas públicas. Su investigación se enfoca discapacidad, participación laboral femenina, emprendimiento y educación en América Latina. Su investigación ha sido publicada en The Review of Economics and Statistics, American Economic Journal- Applied, Journal of Human Resources y Journal of Development Economics.

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