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FEATURE STORY April 23, 2020

One-Year Anniversary of the Inclusive Education Initiative: Influencing Discourse Around Education for Children with Disabilities




  • One year ago, the Inclusive Education Initiative (IEI) was launched by the World Bank with the support of UK's DFID and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD)
  • IEI aims to provide technical expertise and resources to help countries foster more inclusive educational systems, with a view to achieve SDG 4: ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all

What role does the community play in ensuring children with disabilities attend school? Are education systems ready to support children with disabilities? How do we strengthen the collection and use of data on disability-inclusive education? These are some of the questions that were being deliberated by a group of disability-inclusive education experts in preparation for the 2015 Oslo Summit on Education and Development.

One year ago, the Inclusive Education Initiative (IEI) was launched by the World Bank with the support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). Recognizing the enormous challenges in addressing the educational needs of children with disabilities at scale, the goal of the IEI is to provide technical expertise and resources to help countries foster more inclusive educational systems, with a view to achieve SDG 4. With the social impacts of COVID-19 (coronavirus) set to disproportionately affect children with disabilities, it is more pressing than ever that we reflect upon what went right, as we continue with our response to an evolving pandemic. Here are some reflections on the anniversary of the IEI.

Let’s Start with the Numbers

We know that children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded from education in countries around the world. Of the estimated 65 million primary and secondary school age children with disabilities, at least half of them are out of school. They experience barriers in enrolling, attending, participating, and learning at school. Estimates suggest that more than 85% of disabled primary-age out of school children have never attended school. On average, one in three children with disabilities of primary school age is out of school, compared with one in seven children without disabilities.

Conversely, when children with disabilities do attend school, they are more likely to drop out due to inaccessible environments and learning materials, a lack of teachers trained to support their learning, and stigmatization against their ability to learn. Compared to their non-disabled peers, children with disabilities have poor learning outcomes. Children without disabilities have a literacy rate that is close to around 15% higher than that of children with disabilities and this gap in literacy rates between the two groups has continued to widen over time. Despite these challenges, children with disabilities are more likely to stay enrolled when provided with meaningful, quality relevant education.

Rethinking Education for Children with Disabilities

In just one short year, the IEI has already started to influence the progress of disability-inclusive education. The IEI is supporting three pilot countries, Nepal (USD 1.93 million), Rwanda (USD 1.90 million) and Ethiopia (USD 2.0 million), to expand their disability-inclusive education portfolio. The programs for each pilot emerged from robust engagement and inputs from a range of stakeholders, including ministries of education, social development, social welfare, Local Education Groups, inclusive education thematic working groups, and dedicated consultation with disabled persons organizations and civil society organizations.

The IEI also works with a range of partners, including World Bank country teams, UNICEF, and other stakeholders to support the wide suite of issues within the education system. To highlight a few:  

The IEI supports narrowing the disability data gap by providing grants to develop inclusive Education Management Information Systems (EMIS), developing screening tools and assessment tools to identify children with disabilities, providing multi-country analysis of Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) data on disability, testing the incorporation of the Washington Group Child Functioning Module into EMIS (which assesses functional difficulties in different domains including hearing, vision, communication/comprehension, learning, mobility and emotions), and rolling out an Inclusive Education household survey module.

The IEI is working towards closing the disability research gap by commissioning comprehensive reviews of resource classrooms and assessment centers; with the view to better articulate the critical elements of inclusion. As such, more analysis is needed on the functioning of local and community level assets linked to early identification and detection. Similarly, rigorous analysis in required on the efficiency of rehabilitation services and parental supports to the education of children with disabilities. This will be complemented by a global review of scalable screening, assessment and referral systems.

The IEI is addressing the capacity gap by training teachers on screening and assessment, providing technical workshops on disability-inclusive education sector analysis, planning online disability-inclusive Education Sector Planning courses, and developing the Inclusive TEACH classroom observation tool. The IEI is also supporting the development of inclusive primary programs by strengthening teacher support mechanisms through inclusive education resource centers/demonstration schools, streamlining the recruitment and deployment of inclusive education teachers, and promoting disability inclusion in existing education project(s).

The IEI is addressing the innovation and knowledge gap by administering grants with an aim to disrupt learning practices for children with disabilities and preparing them for lifelong learning. In February, the World Bank launched the IEI Disability-Inclusive Education Community of Practice and Knowledge Hub, which already has an active and robust listserv and LinkedIn page.  This hub will not only address the need for a knowledge sharing platform that focuses exclusively on disability inclusive education, but will also deepen the conversation around challenges, good practices, gaps in inclusive education, and implementation issues.

In July, we carried out an extensive scoping review with various partners and stakeholders. The aim was to assess existing communities of practice, knowledge portals, and networks that touch on disability-inclusive education. Our analysis found that while many existing groups focused on education, inclusive education, and disability, very little focused specifically on disability-inclusive education.

While many gaps were identified, there are already some exciting results surfacing from country level engagement of the IEI. For example, in Rwanda, technical assistance and advice form the IEI cemented the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. This is important as it enables the government to access content and waver copyright issues to access published works for print disabled learners. The Treaty was ratified by the government of Rwanda in April.

Going Forward into the Next Year

As we reflect on the past year’s accomplishments toward supporting disability-inclusive education, we have a very sobering challenge ahead of us. We foresee the extraordinary challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic will bring and are actively responding to educational impacts on the millions of children around the world, especially ones with disabilities. IEI will use its convening power to mobilize experts to assess emerging needs, practices, and solutions for children with disabilities. Key discussions from the round table will be used to produce a working paper on disability inclusive education COVID-19 response. The paper will outline specific COVID-19 related barriers for education of children with disabilities and offer a solutions menu.


Our Community of Practice LinkedIn page will continue to serve as a platform where we will share the latest information and current research addressing COVID-19 related impacts on disability-inclusive education. We hope you will join us there to keep the conversation going and let us know what else you hope to see the IEI achieve in its second year.