March 29, 2021
In low-resource regions of Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Rwanda, among other areas around the world with high poverty levels, more than 90 percent of children with disabilities lack access to quality education. Excluding these children from education leaves the world void of the impact they otherwise would have if provided access to language, literacy and learning.
To address this challenge, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) today announced three winners of its UnrestrICTed Challenge, a global competition to scale Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for education solutions that ensure children with disabilities benefit from language, literacy and learning support grounded in Universal Design for Learning at home and at school.
Children with disabilities remain among the most marginalized in access to education, a challenge further compounded by poverty, inaccessible environments, social isolation, and conflict and crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic. As the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls for inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030, more must be done—and quickly—to ensure learning environments are designed to be accessible, with appropriate tools and resources for children with disabilities to realize their full potential.
“The UnrestrICTed Challenge, with its focus on scalable ICT solutions to support learning for children with disabilities, is timely,” said Rosemary McKay, A/g Assistant Secretary at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, an ACR GCD partner. “Amidst this COVID-19 crisis, all children should have access to learning opportunities.”
The three winners—eKitabu, Save the Children, and World Education, Inc.—will be collaborating with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPO) in Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, and Nepal, respectively, to scale and test ICT for education solutions, including accessible books, literacy learning apps, and teacher training resources, to improve literacy and learning for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, are blind or have low vision, or have intellectual or developmental disabilities.
In October 2020, solvers and their DPO partners participated in virtual workshops to co-create forward-thinking ICT for education solutions that demonstrate the highest potential to improve language and literacy for children with disabilities in low-resource contexts.
“The quality of learning and of the social and emotional development that children with disabilities acquire in school depends heavily on how teachers, principals and others design environments to enable accessibility,” said Kerin Ord, global sector education lead at World Vision, an ACR GCD partner. “Without equitable policies, trained teachers, informed and engaged parents, and invested stakeholders, the educational and social development of children with disabilities is often interrupted or worse, unaddressed.”
The UnrestrICTed Challenge awardees are:
In Rwanda, the lack of accessible teaching and learning materials for learners with disabilities is often a major barrier to access and inclusion. Learners with visual disabilities often have to wait for braille materials, while learners who are deaf or hard of hearing lack access to materials in Rwandan Sign Language and are unable to participate in mainstream classrooms where learning is conducted in spoken language.
To address these challenges, eKitabu will collaborate with Rwandan DPOs, former ACR GCD awardee Benetech, education organizations from the public and private sector, and the government to widen access to books in accessible formats. These resources will be locally developed, approved by the Rwandan Education Board, and informed by Universal Design for Learning principles.
Through the project—titled “Accessible digital content for children with disabilities at home and at school in Rwanda”—eKitabu will also work with teachers, community members and caregivers to bring awareness to accessible ICT and how children with disabilities can actively participate in education using accessible digital books.
“We hope that by the end of our project, more children with disabilities in Rwanda will be reading at grade level—learning to read and reading to learn,” Clurman says. “We also hope attitudes among teachers, head teachers, parents and children will have changed countrywide toward the human potential of people with disabilities, and that accessibility will be a core requirement for technology in Rwandan education. Most of all, we hope Rwandan children with and without disabilities will be excited to use technology for learning to read together in schools, homes and community libraries.”
In Papua New Guinea, an estimated 95 percent of children with disabilities are not in school, a challenge that stems largely from stigma about disability and parents’ concerns about safety and teasing, according to data from Save the Children.
To address these challenges, Save the Children in Papua New Guinea will work in a consortium with former ACR GCD awardee SIL LEAD, as well as Callan Services for Persons with Disabilities and Papua New Guinea Assembly of Disabled Persons, to provide children with digital books with audio and video features.
Their “Yumi Read Together” project will leverage DPO outreach to support families in using SIL’s Bloom Reader app to gain access to Department of Education curriculum books from Grades 1-8. These books have been translated into various local languages with accessibility features, including videos with American Sign Language (ASL) and PNG Sign Language, and audio in English and Tok Pisin. Save the Children will also work with local companies, NGOs, government and civil society actors to provide training to more than 1,000 teachers and education professionals in screening, identifying and supporting children with disabilities.
“Children with disabilities will engage in more reading and demonstrate improved reading outcomes if their teachers and caregivers know how to support them, and if they have access to appropriate accessible books with strong links to the national curriculum,” said Joy Wong, Program Operations Director for Save the Children PNG. “Consistent practice and messages reinforced at school and at home is the key.”
In Nepal, roughly 11 percent of children have a disability, according to UNICEF estimates. Access to education for children with disabilities in the country often depends on their type of disability, rural or urban location, and language, and only a small percentage are estimated to have tailored learning support.
To address these challenges, World Education will work with government education stakeholders and local DPOs to develop a framework for integrating ICTs and Universal Design for Learning principles into government guidelines and training instruction. The project—titled LEARN (Leveraging Existing Accessibility Resources in Nepal)—will also leverage ICT to expand teacher professional development opportunities related to inclusive education.
“Right now, there is a variety of different technology resources and digital materials, but they’re all disparate initiatives,” said Helen Sherpa, Country Director for World Education Nepal. “Our vision is for government stakeholders, teacher trainers, teachers, DPOs and parents to have a better understanding of the resources that are available, how they can be used to support learning, and how to select the most appropriate resources for a particular context, learning stage, or child’s needs.”
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