Including children with disability in education: Strategies from DFAT's INOVASI

A teacher attends to a student with special needs. Screencap from: INOVASI Pendidikan via YouTube

CANBERRA — Through an investment of $49 million Australian dollars ($33.6 million), the Australian aid program and Indonesian government have partnered to identify new ways of improving learning outcomes for children across 17 districts of Indonesia.

A core area of the program, which concludes in June next year, has been to identify and reduce barriers to education for children with disability.

Under the management of Palladium, the INOVASI program has supported 54 pilot projects, over half of them implemented by grantees and program partners.

In the region of East Sumba, CIS Timor was among the supported grantees, with a pilot education program targeting inclusion in nine schools. This program incorporated the schools, parents, and village community, and aimed to deliver three goals: a commitment to inclusive education; encouragement for parents to support children with special needs to attend school and learn at home; and developing support at the village government level.

CIS Timor trained teachers from the partner schools to provide parents, the community, and the village government with a better understanding of how they can play their role in supporting children. The result has seen a village regulation on inclusion issued to give people with disability greater opportunities, and to enable those who would normally go to a school for specifically for those with disabilities, to be accommodated by teachers in mainstream schools.

“The implementation of the inclusive education program has brought positive impacts to the education sphere in Sumba island,” Alain Verson Oematan, project manager of the CIS Timor inclusive education pilot, told Devex. “Children with special needs are now able to access education and gradually receive the education services that are suitable to their condition and needs.”

A rights-based approach to address development's ignored disability

Australia’s DFAT is working to support better understanding of psychosocial disability by calling on the expertise of disabled people's organizations.

And according to Oematan, East Sumba has become more aware of the issue of inclusive education since this program was started, with village governments also starting to think about accommodating inclusion issues in village planning. This offers important insight into strategies to improve access to education in remote regions of the world.

Transitioning education thinking

“Teachers have often felt that they should present the learning concepts in one singular way and that if children can’t keep up, then the child is not fit for that class or school,” Beth Sprunt, INOVASI’s disability and inclusion adviser, explained to Devex.

Feiny Sentosa, INOVASI’s deputy technical director, told Devex that teachers in Indonesia still rely heavily on textbook content, rote learning, and whole-class teaching.

“A one size fits all approach is often seen in primary classes as teachers push students to achieve uniform progress through a set grade-level curriculum which must be mastered by the end of each school year,” she said.

The idea that teachers need to differentiate their methods of teaching to enable all children to participate and learn is spreading around the world — and it is an idea INOVASI is bringing to education in Indonesia, to support children with disabilities by giving teachers skills in this area.

“Teachers have often lacked the skills and awareness of how to do this, and they have lacked confidence in their ability to be creative and come up with variations in their teaching methods,” Sprunt said. “When school principals encourage their teachers to be creative and support them with problem-solving to overcome barriers that children face, many of the challenges to inclusion are readily overcome with local solutions.”

Sri Widuri, INOVASI education specialist, explained to Devex that there were other systemic structures that needed to be overcome to make education inclusive.

“Sometimes in Indonesia, if the school is not designated as an inclusive school with appropriate facilities, the principal or teacher may feel reluctant to accept students with disabilities, as [they] may fear they will violate school regulations,” she said.

For teachers, challenges also lie in distinguishing between children who have learning or intellectual disabilities and those who are struggling for other reasons, Sprunt explained.

“Sometimes the language of instruction is not the language the children speak at home, or the teaching methods are not adapted well for a variety of learning styles,” she said. “Commonly, teachers assume a child is a slow learner before considering other factors. The definition of disability used in Indonesian law has been very helpful in coming to a consensus on what schools should define as disability.”

Q&A: Lessons from Australian aid's disability inclusion program

Cate Rogers, assistant secretary of the development policy and education branch within DFAT sits down with Devex to discuss lessons from the Australian aid program's disability-inclusive strategy.

By acknowledging that children learn at different rates, INOVASI is turning the spotlight on the child and providing teachers with tools and strategies to identify and cater for learning differences in the classroom. Simple formative assessment tools help teachers find out what individual students can and cannot do when reading and working mathematically.

Strategies for analyzing, grouping, and differentiating learning tasks allow teachers to develop activities appropriate to the child’s current level of development, maximizing success and progression. And children who cannot read are now provided with learning appropriate to their level, rather than being labeled as failures and having learning difficulties.

More broadly, once children have been identified using student learning profiles, INOVASI facilitates meetings between schools, parents, and a local disabled people’s organization for parents to access further assistance.

“As a specific example from Central Lombok, a child involved in a pilot was discovered to have vision difficulties in the classroom,” Widuri said. “INOVASI helped put the child in a community health centre where he was then given glasses — this helped to greatly improve learning. There have been other instances where children were found to have hearing difficulties, and so INOVASI is able to connect the school with [a] social services office, so they can provide the students with hearing aids.”

Assessing the impact

The outcomes of these pilots need to be assessed for impact and sustainability, to determine whether they could be scaled up — and the impact of inclusive education is no different.

Rasita Purba, the monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning manager for INOVASI, explained that the program’s monitoring and evaluation system is set up at two levels: the individual pilot level and the program level.

“Each pilot program has its own theory of change and results framework indicators, which are linked to a broader program-level results framework and theory of change,” she said.

To evaluate the performance of each pilot, INOVASI conducts baseline and endline studies. The baseline is done before implementation, and the endline is done at pilot completion.

The baseline examines numerous aspects, including: basic student literacy and numeracy tests; student interviews; classroom observation; teacher tests; interviews with teachers, principals, and school supervisors; interviews with parents; and observations of school facilities. INOVASI also conducts spot-checks for its pilots, which aim to identify areas for improvement — particularly in teaching practice.

Focusing on inclusive education, Widuri explained that the use of student learning profiles was also an important way to monitor the impact of programs, with the number of children recorded as having a disability by the Ministry of Education expected to increase. Simply ensuring those children had access to education was important, Widuri said.

“Often, children with disabilities may not even be recorded in the government system,” she said.  

About the author

  • %25257b6eb61a8f df39 4ae1 bb29 9056d33aa739%25257d

    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.