Educating Children with Special Needs in Developing Countries

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The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that 90 percent of children with special needs in developing countries do not attend school.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has found that 10 percent of the world is living with special needs and 80 percent of the disabled live in developing countries. The World Bank estimates that, of the 58 million children who do not attend primary school, one-third have a disability.

Monitoring disability rates of children in developing countries such as Africa is difficult due to a lack of study and inclusion of the group, says Shimelis Tsegaye Tesemma, Head of the Children and the Family Programme for the African Child Policy Forum (ACPA) said.

Tesemma says that children with special needs are found in high numbers throughout Africa, but are excluded from education services due to outdated policies. Only one in 100 children with special needs in developing countries is provided access to education but because of a lacking curriculum, poorly trained teachers or an isolated learning environment, access to learning is limited.

To combat these problems, the United Nations (UN) has prioritized childhood education in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming to ensure equal access to education for all children, including the disabled, by 2030. The goals also include providing free, quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education to all young boys and girls by 2030.

Bob Ransom, founder and senior advisor at the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) is currently working on 12 different projects to create inclusive programs for children with special needs in Africa, including education. The ECDD works alongside ChildFund Ethiopia, a child’s rights organization specifically targeting those with special needs in the developing world.

These two groups are working towards bringing Ethiopian children with special needs into mainstream public schools. The goal is to create model elementary and secondary schools that are physically accessible to all and offer alternate formats for learning, like brail and audio. The groups hope to create a resource center for all surrounding schools to be trained on special education.

Organizations around the world have been making strides to increase the number of educated children living with special needs in developing countries.

In Bulgaria, the Bulgaria Social Inclusion Project has provided more than 1,700 children with special needs with social, health and childcare services that will prepare them for future education. Over 20 percent of these young recipients went on to enroll in mainstream kindergarten and preschool groups.

In Vietnam, the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) created its Intergenerational Deaf Education Outreach Program to help families and schools teach deaf children sign language at a young age, preparing them before entering primary school. More than 200 teachers have been trained to use sign language and provide support to the 260 deaf children served through this program.

The Malawi Inclusive Education for Disabled Children project in Africa was created in hopes of raising enrollment among children with special needs who are not in mainstream schools. According to the World Bank, 150 African schools have developed guidelines for disability screening.

The program has provided 630 teachers with training for inclusive education. About 30 schools throughout Malawi will have trained teachers who provide hands-on support for children with special needs.

In Toga, a small coastal country in West Africa, the Global Partnership for Education provided a grant that supported the building of 1,000 classrooms accessible by children with special needs. The classrooms now provide 42,000 disabled children with basic education.

Sources: The African Child Information Hub 1, The African Child Information Hub 2, Disabled World, Division for Sustainable Development, The World Bank Group, UN, World Health Organization

Photo: Flickr

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Kelsey Lay is a writer for The Borgen Project. She lives in Columbia, Missouri.

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