Disability-inclusive education

In realising the right to education, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 24) requires State parties to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability.

There are a number of key factors to consider when considering disability inclusive education. These include:

  1. the removal of environmental barriers including those related to physical access, policy, communication and attitudes;
  2. provision of disability specific resources e.g. an attendant;
  3. improved teacher capacity in inclusive education pedagogy; and
  4. empowerment of persons with disabilities through independent skill development.

Resources in this section focus on guidance to ensure that persons with disabilities can access their right to an education in mainstream schools. They include peer-reviewed evidence on inclusive education, case studies and practical guidance on disability inclusive education, including modifications to physical environments, and teaching approaches.

See also: Accessible infrastructure and communications, Assistive devices, Early intervention, Early childhood development, Child protection, Humanitarian and DRR, Supporting participation at an individual level.

DFAT (2023) Disability-Inclusive Education: Policy Guidance

This Policy Guidance Document provides introductory information regarding inclusive education, to assist DFAT in supporting the design, implementation, and monitoring of inclusive education initiatives. It refers to the international ‘Framework for Disability-Inclusive Education’ and discusses the key elements of inclusive education identified within the Framework. The Guidance Document can be used to guide the assessment of inclusive education at the country and program level.

Save the Children (2022) Inclusive Education Resources and Toolkit

The Inclusive Education Resources and Toolkit is a resource and reference for all staff working in education programming to mainstream inclusion in their work. The Toolkit provides recommendations and resources to strengthen inclusive education programming to enable Save the Children to achieve greater successes in the provision of high-quality ECCD and basic education as promoted by the Quality Learning Framework, also in emergency and humanitarian context. The toolkit is based on a comprehensive analysis of key gaps in existing guidance shared by practitioners globally as well as a review of international standards and resources in the field and innovative and adaptive models of inclusive education programming already in use by Save the Children and other organizations.

UNICEF (2021) Mapping of Disability-Inclusive Education Practices in South Asia

This regional mapping report and its country profiles across South Asia highlights the main gaps and challenges of education practices, across six areas, including: enabling environments, demand, service delivery, measuring and monitoring quality, gender and humanitarian contexts. The report includes key recommendations for governments civil society and development actors, and identifies areas recommended for further research on disability-inclusive education practices. Detailed country-specific profiles are available for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, providing a snapshot of each country’s key policies, practices and strategies implemented from 2010-2020. Recommendations for governments, development partners and areas for further research on inclusive education practices have been identified within each country-specific profile.

UNICEF East Asia and Pacific (2020) Education for every ability: A review and roadmap of disability-inclusive education in East Asia and Pacific

This Report analyses successes, innovative approaches, challenges, gaps, and priorities for action in the East Asia and Pacific region, with a particular focus on programs targeting children with disabilities of pre-primary and primary school age, implemented from 2015 to 2019. The mapping was framed around seven domains which included: 1. Whole systems approach, 2. Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment, 3. Supported Teachers, 4. Learning-friendly Environment, 5. Effective Transitions, 6. Partnerships and 7. Data and Monitoring. Findings from the mapping were used to prepare a roadmap and concrete actions to guide countries in advancing disability-inclusive education. The roadmap highlights four strategic change areas accompanied by suggested outputs, activities, indicators, and timelines for countries to consider and adjust to local contexts.

DFAT (2019) Disability Inclusive Education: Foundation Level

The purpose of this module is to provide introductory information about the rationale, purpose, benefits, key issues and outcomes of disability-inclusive education. The module focuses on disability-inclusive primary and secondary education, with some reference to post-school education and training (PSET) and early childhood education (ECE). Whilst great gains have been made in access to quality primary education for general populations, fundamental reform is still required to enable access for children with disabilities. This module provides foundational information to enable engagement in this topic, and the provision of general advice. A deeper presentation of issues and approaches can be found in the Disability-Inclusive Education: Practitioner Level module.

CBM (2018) My Right is Our Future: The Transformative Power of Disability-Inclusive Education

This is a useful inclusive education primer. The publication explores the challenges and provides practical suggestions on how to support disability-inclusive education systems that can better meet both the general and specific learning needs of all children with disabilities. Framed around a number of case studies and accounts of experiences CBM has gathered in more than 100 years of supporting partners in education provision, this publication considers questions as diverse as how we can include persons with disabilities, their families, and their organisations to achieve inclusive education to how inclusive education ought to be financed.

Sharma U, Forlin C, Marella M, Sprunt B, Deppeler J and Jitoko F (2016) Pacific Indicators for Disability-Inclusive Education The Guidelines Manual 2016

The Pacific Indicators for Disability Inclusive Education (Pacific-INDIE) were designed in collaboration with a number of stakeholders, to support the implementation of disability inclusive education in the Pacific region. The indicators were developed to assist Pacific Island countries in setting targets within program planning and program implementation to help improve the inclusion of children and youth with disabilities in education. The Guidance Manual published by Monash University provides an overview of the development of the indicators, guidance for stakeholders in the use of the indicators, and the final set of indicators with includes 48 indicators across 10 dimensions of disability inclusive education. The Guidance Manual provides practical information about how to implement and measure the indicators. There is a Brief Overview available (in several languages) which provides a summary of the manual.

Ministry of Education - Fiji (2016) Disability Inclusion FEMIS training video

This 8.34 long video on YouTube explains the Fiji Education Management Information System (FEMIS), which is used to document children who may have difficulties in functioning and to assess the school’s accessibility. The video clarifies how to use the two documents vital to FEMIS: 1- Student Learning Profile Form and 2- School Accessibility and Inclusion Form. FEMIS assists the Fijian Ministry of Education in monitoring, planning, budgeting and reporting on a national level. The video demonstrates people filling in the paper and computer versions of the form and has scenes of parent/teacher interviews.

Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts. Fiji. (2019) AQEP Disability Inclusion Film

This is a 4.19 long video demonstrating the use of the Australian Government Funded Access to Quality Education Program (AQEP) in Fiji. Parents and teachers are interviewed and there are scenes of children, including those with disability in the classroom and engaging with other students.

Mizunoya S, Mitra S and Yamasaki I (2016) Towards inclusive education: The impact of disability on school attendance in developing countries

This paper by UNICEF’s research office explores the impact of disability on school attendance. The research uses nationally representative data from 18 surveys in 15 countries to explore three questions: How common is disability among children? What is the gap between children with and without disabilities who are out of school? What are the key determinants of school attendance for children with disabilities? The paper finds that the average disability gap in school attendance is 30% in primary and secondary schools in 15 countries. The report provides evidence that disability is a critical factor influencing school attendance and that education policies in countries close to reaching universal primary education (e.g. Indonesia) are not adequately addressing the barriers to school attendance for children with disabilities. The authors call for improvements in disability data collection worldwide and a greater focus on initial school attendance for children with disabilities.

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2016) General Comment No 4 - Article 24: Right to inclusive education (Adopted 26 August 2016)

This General Comment sets out the consensus views of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities regarding the implementation of Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Education). It identifies barriers to education, defines inclusive education, sets out the requirements of Article 24, explains how it relates to other articles of the CRPD, and how it can be implemented in practice at the national level. It also addresses the interplay between the general obligation to provide accessibility and to provide reasonable accommodation. It is an important guidance document for those wishing to ensure that support to inclusive education aligns with the Committee’s views. Note: click 'cancel' if requested to enter a password to open the document.

Rieser R, Stubbs S, Myers J et al (2013) Educating Teachers of Children with Disabilities: Mapping, Scoping and Best Practices Exercise in the Context of Developing Inclusive Education

This comprehensive document reports the findings from UNICEF’s Rights, Education and Protection (REAP) project that investigated how teachers are educated to teach children with disabilities in inclusive environments across lower and middle income countries. Given that studies have shown that teachers’ attitudes, knowledge, skills and understanding are major factors in the effective inclusion of children with disabilities, this report is a helpful resource to guide and promote disability inclusive education. It identifies ways that teachers are educated to teach children with disabilities in inclusive environments, and makes recommendations based upon the findings. The report is based on a sound review of relevant literature, surveys and consultations.

Wapling L (2016) Inclusive Education and Children with Disabilities: Quality Education for All in Low and Middle Income Countries – Full Report

This systematic literature review concerns primary level education of children with disabilities in low and middle income countries (LMICs). The review aimed to produce a synthesis of the most effective approaches for education of children with disabilities. However, a lack of articles focused on the outcomes of inclusive education limited the extent to which conclusions could be drawn on the most effective approaches. Despite this, the review identifies a range of key issues that should be considered when supporting inclusive education in LMICs including: - Conceptualising inclusive education; - The role of policy and funding, - The role of special education; - The role of support teachers and services; - The impact of impairments on inclusion; - The importance of teacher preparedness and - Assumptions about cost effectiveness of various models.

CBM (2016) Inclusive Education and Children with Disabilities: Quality Education for All in Low and Middle Income Countries - CBM Policy Brief

This policy brief arose from a systematic literature review about primary level education of children with disabilities in low and middle income countries. The review aimed to produce a synthesis of the most effective approaches for quality educational outcomes for children with disabilities. This brief outlines key issues drawn from the systematic review and provides a range of practical suggestions for partner governments, donors and the international development community to further strengthen educational outcomes for children with disabilities. The review found that children with disabilities are not being well served by the current situation in respect to inclusive education. A tendency to focus purely on rights to access rather than educational outcomes, confusion around terminology, donor funding practices, and issues around training teachers and curriculum development are also discussed.

Booth T and Ainscow M (2002) Index for inclusion

The Index for inclusion is a resource developed in the UK for supporting the development of learning and participation in schools for all children, regardless of gender, ethnic group, disability or other potential marginalised category. This resource has been adapted for a range of developing country contexts such as India and South Africa. This tool offers a broad application in supporting schools on the journey towards inclusion, however is not focused on specific inclusionary strategies. It is a useful resource for commencing inclusion discussions.

UNESCO (2009) Policy guidelines on inclusive education

These guidelines provide policy and planning guidance to policy makers and education planners in regards to inclusive education systems at a national level. Part 1 contextually situates inclusive education and relates it to current international educational frameworks and targets. Part 2 covers the translation of national inclusive education policy into inclusive policy at a community level. In its totality, this resource provides a comprehensive coverage of inclusive education policy issues.

The University of the South Pacific (2009) Inclusive education in the Pacific

This book (available online) was the outcome of a regional workshop on inclusive education in the Pacific held in 2007. This foundational workshop led to the creation of recommendations regarding inclusive education which were endorsed and adopted by the Forum Ministers of Education and have since been added to the Forum Basic Education Action Plan. The book is authored by a number of influential education and disability leaders from throughout the Pacific. It contextualises inclusive education in the Pacific, providing cultural discussions and application, policy recommendations, guidelines for inclusion at a school level, and a variety of perspectives on inclusive education in the Pacific. Inclusive education case studies from Samoa, Tonga and Palau are also included.

Asian Development Bank (2010) Strengthening inclusive education

This is the operational guide for the education sector staff of the Asian Development Bank. It outlines the history of inclusive education as well as illustrating how and why inclusive education should be strengthened in the Asia-Pacific region. It analyses patterns of exclusion by subsector of education and by subregion in Asia and the Pacific. It is a useful resource for education ministries, governments, donors and other educational stakeholders, particularly as it goes beyond describing inclusive education policy, and analyses and critiques inclusive education initiatives in the region.

International Federation of Hard of Hearing (2013) Draft paper: Education Issues

International Federation of Hard of Hearing is the global peak body for persons who are hard of hearing. (World Federation of the Deaf represents Deaf people). IFHOH believes that persons who are hard of hearing have the right to an inclusive and accessible education, and should have equal opportunities to participate in post-secondary and adult education programs. This draft paper outlines the technological and human supports essential to creating a conducive learning environment that will provide equality of opportunity and equity of outcomes for persons who are hard of hearing. (See also the position paper of WFD in the 'Disability specific education' resources to understand the differences of policy and approach.)

Reiser R (2012) Implementing inclusive education: A Commonwealth guide to implementing Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (2nd edition)

This online book (available for purchase only) explains the link between the UNCRPD and the policy and practice of inclusive education, from an education system level to the school and community level. It also explores various models of disability and how these perspectives influence educational participation for children with disabilities. This resource also includes case studies, however these are limited to Commonwealth countries. It includes developing and developed country responses to inclusive education.

EENET Enabling education network

The Enabling Education Network (EENET) is an online inclusive education information-sharing network and resource site, maintained by a member network which includes teachers, parents, students, NGOs and policy makers. The resource site promotes and shares information and documentation originating in developing countries. The resource section collates lists of key documents under thematic and country categories. Of most practical value are the case studies on practical implementation of inclusive education.

CBM Australia supported NORFIL Foundation to implement the Enable Communities for Inclusion of Children and Youth with Disabilities project from 2020 to 2022. The project had a significant impact on children and youth with disabilities, as well as their families, by fostering stronger commitment to disability inclusion among local councils, and by supporting children with disabilities and their families to become disability advocates. Key achievements of the project include successfully advocating for increased budget allocations by local councils to support people with disabilities, improving access to inclusive education and healthcare services, supporting families to implement home-based rehabilitation and education programs, providing training and peer support for family members, and empowering children and youth with disabilities to advocate for their rights.

The Access to Quality Education Program (AQEP) was a six-year program focused on improving access to and quality of education for children disadvantaged by poverty, location, disability or gender. The program’s Disability Inclusion Strategy facilitated many positive outcomes including increased enrolment and attendance of children with disabilities, increased skills and confidence amongst teachers and several policy and system level changes. This case study provides an overview of the program, the outcomes achieved, lessons learned and next steps.

There are four case studies presented from Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa and Solomon Islands, the four key countries involved in the development of the Pacific INDIE final set of indicators Each of the four countries have made varying progress towards inclusive education and face their own contextual challenges. Common challenges across all four countries include the translation of policy to practice, the need for ongoing advocacy and the need for training of teaching staff. The case studies highlight how the Pacific INDIE indicators are expected to assist in the implementation by facilitating improved understanding of inclusive education; improving the delivery of quality inclusive education and learning outcomes; and improving monitoring, reporting and accountability. The case studies provide an overview of the local context, progress made on inclusive education, challenges faced to achieving education for all, and the way forward for each country.

This policy brief discusses attitudinal barriers in children with disabilities in accessing education. Changing attitudes about disability is a significant component in children with disabilities receiving a quality education in Fiji. Without attitudinal change, the right to education for all children will not be realised. The recommendations offer ways to continue the transformation in attitudes that is already occurring in communities and schools. 1. Continue awareness raising workshops and roadshows in schools and communities to improve attitudes about disability and to facilitate children with disabilities’ access to educational opportunities in mainstream schools. 2. Ministry of Education to work together with Disabled People’s Organisations to develop advocacy strategies to raise awareness about disability through different media that education is a right for all children.

This policy brief demonstrates that improvements made to existing school structures enables children with disabilities to participate in inclusive education activities. The findings imply that making schools disability-friendly is a determining factor in whether or not children with disabilities attend school. Recommendations include: 1. School management committees to be trained by MoE regarding how to manage maintenance issues related to accessibility. 2. AQEP to share designs and standards of disability accessible schools with MoE to ensure future school refurbishment and reconstruction are suitably designed for children with disabilities. 3. MoE to provide classroom equipment that is compatible to specific disabilities. 4. Schools to use grants to fund equipment and assistive devices required by specific children with disabilities, and to replace and/or repair school equipment and assistive devices that are damaged in a timely manner.

This policy brief found that resourcing schools with qualified teachers and teacher aides, as well as providing appropriate knowledge resources, to which staff can refer when faced with challenging situations, are essential for ensuring positive educational outcomes of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The success of inclusive education was determined by the utilisation of teacher aides in classrooms, teacher expertise in inclusive education, and practical resources to guide and support classroom activities. Equipping schools with qualified teachers and teacher aides, and practical resources are critical for expanding and sustaining inclusive education in Fiji. Recommendations included strategies for increasing staff capacity and improving teaching and support resources.

This policy brief analysed Fiji’s teacher training institutions to determine how teacher trainees were exposed to information regarding special and inclusive educational techniques and modalities. Courses were different and had a limited effect in preparing teachers to teach students with different needs. Recommendations included: 1. Pre-service training in inclusive education should be compulsory in all educational programs offered by all of Fiji’s teacher training institutions. 2. Fiji’s Ministry of Education should develop standards which require all teacher training institutions to develop/use curricula that educate every intending teacher about inclusive education. 3. Pre-service teacher education curricula for all teacher training institutions should be revised or developed so that all teacher trainees are aware of, and supported towards, inclusive education learning goals. 4. Formal training must be provided to teacher aides.

This is a compilation of case studies from 13 different Save the Children inclusive education initiatives across the globe. The case studies cover programs that have targeted specific groups of excluded children, developed inclusive school communities, promoted change in the education system, or addressed financial barriers to excluded groups. These case studies are useful references points for policy makers, education planners, governments and donors.

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Picture of a young boy from Tanzania who uses a wheelchair. He is smiling and is surrounded by his classmates who are crowding around him.

Photo: Thomas Einberger, 2010

Moses*, (aged 7) who has spina bifida, is surrounded by his school friends, Tanzania. (*Pseudonym used) Copyright: CBM/argum/Einberger