SEATTLE, Washington — Education around the world has shifted to remote instruction in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. For many students, this is little more than an inconvenience. However, for some with learning disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia or autism, the shift to remote learning can be catastrophic to their education. Many students with learning disabilities in developing nations already do not get the kind of attention they require, and remote instruction threatens to leave them further behind.
Background on Learning Disabilities in Developing Countries
Education in developing nations is vital to breaking the poverty cycle for many families. When individuals are able to complete an education (primary or secondary), their opportunities greatly increase. However, with limited access to quality education, the poverty cycle is difficult to break, even under normal circumstances. For students with learning disabilities, it is even more complicated.
In many developing nations, educational systems do not have the means to accommodate children with disabilities in the classroom. Additionally, these children often face discrimination and exclusion, which creates more barriers to their education. The World Bank reports that, in a study of 19 countries, less than half of children with disabilities completed their primary education. That number is about 17% lower than their non-disabled counterparts. This statistic includes all disabilities, both mental and physical, but the World Bank claims students with intellectual disabilities fare worse.
Different Classroom Needs
Those with learning disabilities who do complete their primary education often require extra attention in the classroom. However, many developing nations have turned to digital access to distribute learning materials and are teaching online or via radio or television to ensure education does not come to a halt during COVID-19. These educational scenarios do not lend themselves to personalized attention for students with learning disabilities.
In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set forth criteria to eradicate barriers to education. This is part of a world developmental plan focused on poverty eradication, creating peaceful and just societies and protecting the planet. Amid the pandemic, the Agenda for Sustainable Development has taken a different approach to reach their goals for educational access. They must now contend with all of the new challenges that have arisen from remote learning. Thus, UNICEF has created a checklist for their staff entitled “All Means All” to promote equity and inclusion for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All Means All” Program
The “All Means All” program plans to help students with learning disabilities by developing individualized education plans that identify goals and support that can be provided to students. As a part of this program, UNICEF encourages the engagement of parents (or other caregivers) in their child’s education. Remote learning, even for students without disabilities, requires a heightened level of motivation and dedication to their studies. Therefore, students may benefit from the support of their caregivers in this regard. However, some parents may not be well-equipped to assist their children in their studies, never having attended school themselves. UNICEF is helping support these parents with learning resources. Additionally, they offer support groups where caregivers can exchange advice on how to support their children during this time.
Globally, children with disabilities face numerous challenges both in and outside of the classroom. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these challenges, particularly through the implementation of remote learning. In light of these challenges, UNICEF is working with the families of children with learning disabilities to ease the negative impacts of shifting to remote learning. They hope to keep children with disabilities on track with their education, ensuring them more opportunities in the future.
– Jessie Cohen