Ten Steps to Give Children with Disabilities a Quality Education

Children with disabilities need tailored programs to help them recover from the learning crisis in Asia and the Pacific. Photo: ADB
Children with disabilities need tailored programs to help them recover from the learning crisis in Asia and the Pacific. Photo: ADB

By Eila Heikkila, Bethany Davidson-Widby, Jukka Tulivuori

In Asia and the Pacific, children with disabilities have been hit harder by the learning crisis and pandemic than most. Quick action is needed to give them the inclusive education they deserve.

Children with disabilities have suffered disproportionately from the learning crisis, further exacerbated by the pandemic. Although children with disabilities represent only around 5% of the total child population, they encompass more than half of out-of-school children in Asia and the Pacific.

 A child with a disability has a right to quality education. All countries should ensure inclusive quality education for children with disabilities, so that they learn in the mainstream school system, and fully engage as equal members and active participants in communities and society.

 Inclusive education encourages all children to learn successfully regardless of disability, learning difficulty, or any other feature. It supports every learner’s educational opportunity, in which the teaching and learning processes are stimulated according to the needs of learners. Children with disabilities learn successfully in mainstream education along with their age-based peers.

Inclusive education requires a methodological shift from the traditional “one-size-fits-all” model toward differentiated instruction, or more individualized teaching and learning practices. In differentiated instruction, teachers support children as individual learners, and design teaching and learning to fit children’s diverse needs.

The focus of teaching and learning is on the students’ strengths and abilities, which allows individualization of subject content (what to learn), learning process (how to learn), and products (learning outcomes). Teachers respect the level of each student’s readiness, previous experiences with the content, physical and psychological states, recent developmental stage, or specific academic aptitude.

An individualized education plan is designed for each student to support differentiated learning. Inclusive learning environments are places where everyone is valued and included, and where diversity is seen as enriching.

Studies in developing countries show promising early progress in inclusive education with differentiated instruction but improvement is needed in a variety of areas. The following recommendations support the development of inclusive education.

Institute inclusive education policy, where children with disabilities are included in mainstream education to learn with their age-based peers to the extent possible. Also provide educational opportunities for children with disabilities starting from early childhood education and identify their individual needs with proper screening and identification.

Introduce a twin-track approach in education, which provides specialist support for children with disabilities, while promoting inclusive strategies to mainstream education.

Develop an individualized education plan to ensure that a child with an identified disability receives specialized instruction and related services in education.

Inclusive learning environments are places where everyone is valued and included, and where diversity is seen as enriching.

Adapt the curricula for individualized teaching and learning approach to allow differentiation of learning content, process, and products to the needs of learners with disabilities. This is important also in the current situation, after all the school closures, to emphasize learning for all and to take care that no one is left behind.

Differentiate the learning content to allow students with disabilities to master the knowledge and skills within the range of their abilities. Differentiate the learning process by using different methods that address the individual needs, abilities, and preferences of the learners, and their motivations for learning. And differentiate the learning products and outcomes (knowledge, understanding, skills), and inspire students to present and express them in multiple ways.

Modify the learning environment to meet the students’ preferred learning spaces (quiet corners, lap desks, standing desks, comfortable seating). Also, use information and communication technology and assistive technologies to support teaching and learning in diverse ways.

Support teachers with professional development in inclusive education so they have confidence to teach children with disabilities in mainstream education. Special trainings to support children’s mental health when they are returning to school after school closures might also be needed.

Research latest development in the field and get inspired. For example, a Universal Design for Learning framework aims to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.

Work in teams of professionals and communities of practice to support children with disabilities. Seek expertise from organizations and persons working in inclusive education, and include health professionals, civil society organizations, disability organizations, parents’ associations, and volunteers.

Ensure that the government supports inclusive education development with updated policy, strategic action plans, and implementation, in coordination and close consultation with people with disabilities and disability-rights organizations.

 Governments will need to devote resources and institute significant changes to make fully inclusive education a reality but the investment will pay off many times over in the long term.