ACR GCD presents to USAID’s Education Sector Council on Integration of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into Early Grade Reading Programs

Presenters showcased EdTech tools to create, and coach for, a literacy learning environment to enable full participation of all children

ACR GCD presents to USAID’s Education Sector Council on Integration of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into Early Grade Reading Programs

Universal Design for Learning in ActionOn September 14, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) presented at a webinar focusing on more equitable learning practices in early grade reading programs hosted by USAID’s Education Sector Council. The presentation showcased a unique collaboration between ACR GCD, World Vision International and CAST, a nonprofit education research and development organization, to showcase the impact of redesigning reading programs through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens. 

CAST designed the UDL framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning based on scientific insights into how humans learn, making education more inclusive for everyone. Ultimately, the goal of UDL is to support learners to become experts in their own learning — learners who have agency in their learning— and who each, in their own way, are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal driven. 

Designing literacy programs through a UDL lens strengthens reading outcomes for all learners, especially for  learners with disabilities. The presentation, entitled “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Action: What We Can Learn from Global Education Programs,” emphasized how the UDL framework can be implemented to benefit educators, students and parents when applied in global education.

USAID hosted the webinar attended by 74 USAID employees globally. The topic is of special importance to USAID, which made a commitment at the 2022 Global Disability Summit to incorporate principles of UDL into all new education programs by 2026.

A February 2022 press release summarizing Administrator Samantha Power’s announcement at the Summit stated, “Building on USAID’s ground-breaking work to promote disability-inclusive education, USAID, in partnership with the disability community, will strengthen disability data and evidence for education programming, promote the Universal Design for Learning approach in all new education programs, and increase disability-inclusive initiatives at all levels of education, from pre-primary through higher education programming.”

Webinar presenters included Michelle Oetman, senior program manager at ACR GCD, Allison Posey, senior content editor and producer at CAST, Alodia Santos, education technical director at World Vision International, and Shelly Hartman Sunyak, senior program manager for ACR GCD.

Posey explained the UDL framework and guidelines, setting the groundwork for the presentation. Sharing a quote from Alexander den Heijer, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower,” Posey equated that UDL seeks to fix the learning environment, not the learner, so that learners can learn in ways that enable them to flourish. Santos spoke next about World Vision’s integration of UDL in its education program activities and use of the Measuring Evidence of Quality Achieved (MEQA) app, a digital e-monitoring and coaching tool designed to measure the quality of early grade reading programs that has been enhanced to integrate UDL as part of this collaboration. Hartman Sunyak, who led the collaboration as well as its ongoing field testing, showcased three ACR GCD-funded projects, each working with a local Disabled Persons Organization (DPO), that include training on UDL for teachers; targeted support for learners with disabilities, their teachers and parents to use the EdTech solutions; and activities to ensure the solutions and support are sustainable and scalable in the context. Finally, she provided guidance on effective UDL integration considerations for future USAID procurements to ensure more effective UDL programming in the future.

For those seeking to integrate UDL into their literacy programming, Hartman Sunyak shared lessons learned from ACR GCD’s implementation and practices which improve learning for learners in the classroom, at home and in community reading programs.

“When embedding UDL into reading programs, ensure that your goals, methods, materials and assessments reflect the UDL Knowledge Statements,” Hartman Sunyak said. “First, set clear learning goals and present them to the learners, use accessible teaching and learning materials with formats such as audio, braille and sign language video created alongside DPOs that feature learners with disabilities and their experiences; provide training on how to use accessible books in classrooms, homes and Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers; and distribute the devices necessary to access, leverage and provide continuous support for this entire ecosystem.” 

“Additionally, use adapted assessments, provide appropriate accommodations for learners with disabilities, and create monitoring and coaching tools and plans that are UDL-informed. Finally, ensure sufficient EdTech/Assistive Technology, training, distribution and maintenance are included in your budget,” concluded Hartman Sunyak.  

Learn more about the three ACR GCD-funded projects that include principles of Universal Design for Learning for teachers, learners with disabilities and their parents showcased during the presentation: Digital Storytime in Rwanda, Yumi Read Together in Papua New Guinea and the LEARN project in Nepal. Educators interested in learning more about UDL can view the details of the framework here.

By Jamie Brian with contributions from Michelle Oetman and Shelly Hartman Sunyak, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development–a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government