DISABILITY Rights Watch National Coordinator Bruce Choma says about 40 percent of pupils living with disabilities dropped out of school because of the effects of COVID-19.

In an interview, Tuesday, Choma said when schools reopened following a lockdown, most of the affected pupils living with disabilities did not report back.

He disclosed that according to the statistics bulletin for 2020, almost 80,000 learners with disabilities did not progress to secondary school and only ended in grade seven.

“The COVID-19 pandemic did have a serious impact on the welfare of people with disabilities. I think that we saw, especially, in the area of education because the majority of employed people with disability are employed as teachers in the education sector. That is the area where we have got large numbers of children and youths who are in special education schools and had to stay away. We had a survey on the impact of COVID-19 supported by the UNDP from 2020 [to] 2021 and what we saw there was that the dropout rate for children went up to as much as 40 percent. Some went home and never came back,” Choma said.

“Pupils living with disability dropped out of school during the COVID-19 period. When there was a lockdown, that large number of learners did not report back to school when schools reopened. And in January of course, we saw a higher rate of failure to progress from primary to secondary school. I think what we saw from the statistics bulletin for 2020 is that we had lost out almost 80, 000 learners with disabilities who did not progress to secondary school. They only ended in grade seven.”

And Choma said it was difficult to track the number of people living with disability who succumbed to COVID-19 as most institutions in the country did not have disability disaggregated data.

“It’s difficult to have the numbers because as you know most of our service-providing institutions in Zambia don’t have disability disaggregated data. Even in terms of getting numbers for those who are in treatment and those who have succumbed to COVID-19 is quite a challenge because the Ministry of Health management system does not explicitly capture one’s disability when they are admitted to a facility. So the numbers may be scanty and oftentimes we have to work with estimates of what we are seeing in the region,” he said.

Choma said institutions like the disability rights watch were also supporting the Ministry of Education to have means of having learners who were missing out on E-learning platforms.

“What most institutions have been doing is to provide support measures for families because the impact at household level is the most significant. I think that the Zambia protection system did not respond fairly well. Those cash transfers that were done were supported by the UN but it was just once or twice. For most of the time, people were on their own. So for institutions like ourselves, we went out and looked for donor support to also establish our own systems for providing PPEs and cash transfers to families where there are people with disabilities. In addition to that, we are also supporting the Ministry of Education to have means of having learners who are missing out on E-learning platforms because of their challenges. As you know they also need to catch up,” said Choma.