Welcome to the first of three posts in my mini series “ICT4DD in Action”. The extra ‘D’ in the acronym is no typo- it adds to the typically seen ICT4D to make ‘Information and Communications Technologies for Development and Disabilities”. This series will let us dive in and take a look at how current aid organizations are using ICTs to help those living with disabilities today. ICTs are critical to those living with disabilities, and are key to breaking the cycle of poverty for those living in developing countries.
UNESCO is convinced that ICTs can help mitigate the digital divide and foster the inclusion of persons with disabilities within an educational context, as well as, within society as a whole. From text-to-speech software for the blind, to call-to-text software for the deaf, to online learning platforms for those with limited mobility, assistive ICTs can be life changing for the user. There is strong evidence from more affluent countries that ICTs can provide very significant learning support for those with special education needs (SENs).
Let’s now turn our focus to Africa, where an estimated 60-80 million people are currently living with disabilities; where the vast majority of Africans with disabilities are excluded from schools and opportunities to work; where it is virtually guaranteed that they will continue to be trapped in a cycle of poverty. School enrolment for the disabled African child is estimated at no more than a shockingly low 5-10 per cent.
“People with disabilities, around 1 billion in number around the world are a significant percentage of the world’s population. Unfortunately, many of them are not provided with equal opportunities in education as their peers and are denied their rights of being an integral part of the learning community. It is the responsibility of all Member States to achieve social justice through the protection of the equal rights of their citizens, including persons with disabilities, to education, science, culture, communication and information using various technological solutions. Within this context, the role of ICT to foster inclusive education for learners with disabilities and improve their quality of life has been globally recognized. In developing countries, almost 90% of the children with disabilities are out of the education system and therefore inclusive education is still a challenge and an unfulfilled dream for those children and their families.” –Atef Helmy Minister of Communications and Information Technology Arab Republic of Egypt
Now let us narrow our focus a bit more and examine these issues in Ghana. Relatively little research has been done on the impact of ICTs in Africa, which is one of the places where assistive ICTs are needed most. Godfred Bonnah and Tim Unwin completed a paper specifically to explore how ICTs are being incorporated into the educational systems for people with disabilities in Ghana. One of their research findings was that there are considerable challenges in the deployment of ICTs within SEN. The high costs of ICTs and adaptive software limit the capacities of schools to purchase such tools and there are also issues with inadequate human and physical infrastructure at the school level to accommodate and manage such technologies effectively. Once the ICT tools have been obtained, there is still the challenge of training appropriate assistants, and the continued funding of their placement in schools.
Learning about ICTs without access to ICTs
In May 2016 the Ministry of Education launched its new inclusive education (IE) policy, laying out a strategy for improving the education of all children, with a focus on improving access and quality for disadvantaged children and those with special needs. The policy also acknowledges that NGOs may play an important role in areas such as funding, construction, development of human resources, and supplying and managing schools.
VSO International is one NGO working to overcome the challenges we have discussed in Ghana. They aim to bring all children with disabilities into the mainstream school systems. They rely on local partners as well as international volunteers to assist in meeting these aims. VSO Ghana’s inclusive education programme is designed to raise the quality of learning outcomes for the most disadvantaged and marginalised children through two projects.
The first is the ‘Tackling Education Needs Inclusively’ (TENI) project. Since 2009, VSO Ghana has worked with the Ghana Education Service, NGO partners and national and international volunteers to improve inclusive education by helping girls and disabled children to access and succeed in education. Some of the project’s accomplishments include:
- Supporting 2,400 disabled pupils to access school by changing community and family perceptions.
- Raised awareness of inclusive education, influencing both community approaches and national policy.
- Through 2017-18, 79% of children with disabilities reached through TENI continued at school, progressing from one year through to the next.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjrXuE5SzdI[/youtube] TEST Volunteer video
Their second project is their ‘Teacher Empowerment through Support and Technology’ (TEST) project. In this project, VSO Ghana, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and Open Learning Exchange Ghana piloted an online and technological resource that aims to improve teaching quality and learner outcomes, particularly related to reading. 240 teachers from 20 different schools have been given the chance to use a newly developed online platform that enables them to improve their teaching skills. Interestingly in this project, there is a heavy use of ICTs both to train the teachers, and then again in assisting the students. The schools have also received tablets, projectors, speakers and low-cost servers. Some of this project’s accomplishments include:
- 4,800 pupils from 20 schools improved their ability to pronounce letter sounds, identify unfamiliar words and reading fluency;
- 90% of the teachers in the 20 schools gained new skills in lesson preparation and participatory teaching of phonics and are applying them in teaching;
- An online community has been created together with the setting up of an online ‘counseling room’ where teachers share with each other and get support from subject experts and counselors.
The online platform is accessible from any device and includes over 1,000 online teaching resources as well as supporting peer networking and professional coaching. Tablets, projectors, speakers and low-cost servers in the 20 schools also give the teachers the technology they need to use their new-found skills in the classroom and increase learning opportunities for students.
While this all sounds great, my first concern is ‘how sustainable is this?’ What happens when tablets need to be replaced? The UK government appears to be VSO’s major funder- what happens when Ghana’s SEN projects move down on the priority list? What I could find out is that VSO worked with its partner OLE Ghana to develop TEST and secure funding, and now continues to oversee the project, support its continuous development, and maintain relationships with the local education services. These local partnerships are encouraging, but like many projects in developing countries, the long-term sustainability will remain to be seen.
written by RC