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‘Learning for All’ Must Include Children with Disabilities

Disabled children one of whom suffers from polio in a rehabilitation center. Cambodia. Photo: © Masaru Goto / World Bank

We should be looking at educational opportunities for all children and young people with disabilities.

Masaru Goto / World Bank

December 1, 2017- While the developing world has made strong progress towards universal primary education, education is still largely an unfulfilled dream for millions of children with disabilities. Leroy Philips, a youth leader and radio broadcaster from Guyana, recalls what it was like growing up blind.

When I was six or seven, my uncle used to teach the young folks in the family except me. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t included when he would gather all the young kids to do their spelling, reading, tables and other math related exercises,” Philips says. “Being blind, I was denied an opportunity to participate equally in education lessons at home or at school.”

Philips isn’t alone in his experience. New research from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) finds that the gap between children with and without disabilities has increased dramatically over time. The analysis is based on census data for 19 countries, and thereby tends to capture children with severe disabilities. The data shows that educational attainment and literacy have increased for children with disabilities, but at a much slower pace than for children without disabilities. The study finds, for example, that less than half of children with disabilities complete their primary education and as many as three in ten never enroll in school.

“More than gender or socio-economic status, disability has an outsize impact on a child’s opportunities to learn,” said Quentin Wodon, World Bank lead economist and co-author of the study. “Getting children with disabilities and other disadvantages into school and learning demands urgent action.”

The World Bank is supporting inclusive education for children with disabilities through lending projects, advisory activities, and analytical work. Here are some of them:

Teaching sign language in Vietnam

The Vietnam Intergenerational Deaf Education Outreach Project developed professional human resources for preschool education for the deaf. It trained deaf adults to become mentors to children, while also training about 200 hearing teachers in the use of sign language, and over 50 communication facilitators and sign-language interpreters.

A video about the project tells the story of Linh and Tu, a sister and brother who have been deaf since birth but can now communicate with their family in sign language as a result of home visits by a trained teacher.

Schools, communities welcoming students with disabilities in Moldova

Moldova’s Education Code calls for developing inclusive education and the World Bank's Integration of Children with Disabilities into Mainstream Schools project is helping local districts develop and implement the strategic plan for this. School principals, teachers, and local communities are undergoing inclusive education training.  These training activities, along with school infrastructure rehabilitiation, were carried out to increase school readiness to support the access, participation, and achievement of students with disabilities- along with their peers without disabilities- in a mainstream school setting.

Watch this video to learn more about the important role of teachers, school management, and parents in supporting the learning of all students, including those with disabilities and/or special educational needs.

Testing innovative methods in Malawi

Through the Inclusive Education for Disabled Children program, the World Bank supported the testing of innovative methods to promote the enrollment of disabled children who were excluded from mainstream schools. The program conducted sensitization campaigns in 150 schools, developed guidelines to screen, identify and assess different disabilities, and produced resources for parents on how to provide life skills to children with disabilities. It is also influencing the development of an inclusive education policy. Other current activities include school improvement plans, inclusive education teacher training, procurement of assistive devices, and hands-on support for students.

Tackling disabilities in India

India’s nationwide Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) program seeks to bring all children into elementary school, including those with disabilities. This World Bank-supported national program is producing training packages called “Making Inclusion Work” for master trainers who will coach general education teachers in supporting students with autism, hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, and deaf-blindness.

The SSA’s school readiness program is also developing individualized education plans for children with disabilities following an individualized assessment of the child’s needs and previous classroom experiences.

The share of children with special needs enrolled in primary and upper primary school has risen from 84 percent in 2012-13 to nearly 90 percent in 2015 (a total of 2.5 million children). In addition, over 116,000 children with special needs receive home-based education.

Indian states are innovating within this program to offer greater support to disadvantaged children. In Bihar state, the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs)—residential school facilities that have been set up across the country for girls from underprivileged communities—are accommodating girls with visual impairment. In this video, Reebha, a girl with a visual impairment, is learning martial arts in the KGBV courtyard alongside girls who have sight. After intensive support from teachers who helped her acquire the skills she needed to attend school and learn, Reebha now attends the mainstream upper primary school next door.

Building knowledge on what works

One of the priorities for coming years is to build a stronger knowledge base on initiatives that work, while also helping countries to design and implement inclusive education strategies.

For example, the World Bank is assessing the impact of a program in Kenya that is supporting students with visual impairments in the use of computers.

In China, a World Bank-supported research team carried out a survey among school officials, teachers, parents, and students of attitudes to and perceptions of inclusive education in counties that are to be included in the Guangdong Compulsory Education Project. Their recommendations include making a shift from “learning in regular classes” to “inclusive education”, in recognition of the fact that students with disabilities have a basic right to attend regular schools. See the report summary and blog post to learn about the survey and full list of recommendations.

The World Bank has also recently launched a Trust Fund to support Disability-Inclusive Education in Africa, with funding from USAID. The $3 million Trust Fund seeks to increase access for education among children with disabilities by building knowledge and capacity across the region.

Next steps

Philips, the youth leader from Guyana, lost out on education as a young child, but was given a “second chance” when, at age 23, he completed his high school diploma through a government project for visually impaired youth. He is now an education advocate with GPE.

Just like Philips, many children with disabilities still face substantial barriers in many countries, especially in low income and lower middle income contexts.

The World Bank is actively partnering with countries to ensure inclusive and equal quality education.