ICTs for Inclusive Education

With the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a commitment to inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels was made a priority. This post will focus on inclusive education and the role ICTs can play. 

‘Inclusive education is a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners (…). As an overall principle, it should guide all education policies and practices, starting from the fact that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just and equal society’ (UNESCO 2009)

Alternative Keyboard for children with motoric disabilities presented on a table

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The importance of inclusive education and the role of ICTs

Learners with disabilities at all levels of education, from preschool through to adult education, are vulnerable to exclusion from educational opportunities. For learners that do not have access to primary education this also results in them not achieving the necessary basic skills for long term social and digital inclusion. In effect, this will limit their access to other educational opportunities, as well as, employment. Therefore, providing inclusive education is key so that no one is left behind.

On the one hand, ICTs can play a supportive role in facilitating educational processes by providing innovative ways of transmitting, storing and transforming information. On the other hand, it should also be expanded to include the goal of inclusive education as laid out in Goal 4 of the SDGs which is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Within the area of education, attention has increasingly shifted away from tech-centric approaches, which see technology as drivers of change towards a more people-centric approach that recognises diversity. It is important to remember that ICTs are not stand alone solutions, but are tools with the potential to support wider change purposes. This is true in all ICT4D projects. With this particular approach, ICTs can be a valuable tool for learners with disabilities, who are vulnerable to the so-called ‘digital divide‘.

There are quite a few examples of areas in which ICTs in the field of education can bring opportunities for the 1 billion, including:

  • Improving access to educational materials
  • Providing free and open access to software and learning content (strengthening access and sharing)
  • Adjusting the teaching content and pace to the particular requirements of individual learners (child-centred approach)
  • Distance teaching and learning; tackling spatial marginalisation
  • Bridging language, literacy and disability-related barriers
  • Providing education in emergency and transitional situations (e.g. refugee camps)

Where to start?

As we have continuously argued in this blog, only context-driven and needs-based approaches can enable ICTs to be used to maximum effect to drive inclusive change processes. For example, as noted by a teacher student in Malawi, where teachers have no electricity in their homes, it is not context appropriate to provide devices like tablets for them to prepare lessons.

In education, technology shouldn’t be the starting point but the needs of learners and the specific local context. Often, insufficient attention is paid to the underlying intent or purpose of using ICTs. So, what is the core need that the use of ICTs will address?

In most education projects, the people intended to benefit do not belong to one homogenous group. Instead, they are often diverse in terms of their potential to engage. In order to genuinely identify local needs and context, a participatory approach is required, which actively involves all actors, who make up both the enabling and the restricting environment throughout the programme design: learners, teachers, parents, communities, policy-makers.

As with all ICT4D projects, access to ICTs in education for persons with disabilities can be hindered by physical barriers, cognitive barriers, content barriers (when operating language of device or software is different from learners mother tongue), didactical barriers (where teachers lack the skills to facilitate inclusive education, and financial barriers (costs of devices, hardware and software). RD’s earlier blog post put the spotlight on the Krousar Thmey Foundation in Cambodia, which runs a project providing ICT classes to visually impaired children. This is an example of a project working to overcome a physical barrier.

In a model policy document for inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities, UNESCO attempts to assist states in the process of developing policy in order to achieve the wider goal of inclusive education across all educational sectors and settings. The model policy provides a blueprint for short, medium, and long-term action and also a possible audit tool for identifying current progress in relation to key objectives and actions.

In short, when it comes to education projects, the point of departure should not be technology, but it should be inclusive education and how to achieve this should be guided by the local context and its particular demands. In essence, the same logic can be applied to all ICT4D projects.

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If you are interested in learning more about ICTs and inclusive education, I recommend that you take a look at the following resources:

Zero Project Report 2016, Focus: Education and Information & Communication Technologies. This is an international study on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It includes Innovative Practices, Innovative Policies, and Social Indicators from more than 150 countries

UNESCO’s 2014 Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities.  Where the focus is upon the use of ICTs to support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, 2006)

written by VM

3 Replies to “ICTs for Inclusive Education”

  1. I definitely agree that learners specific needs should be considered and thanks for the link. I’ll definitely be looking into it 🙂

    That’s an important point about teachers receiving enough training as I think this is often an issue if teachers need to teach themselves a skill before passing it on. Which is something that is becoming increasingly common when the technology is changing so quickly. I agree that it is immensely important to have a solid support structure in place to create the chance of ICTs having a positive effect!

  2. Thanks for an interesting read VM!

    I think it is great that you emphasise that technology shouldn’t be the starting point in creating an education strategy but that it should be people driven. This is important across all ICT4D strategies but I feel it is especially important within education where the effects of a positive schooling experience are so long lasting.

    You also mention an example of overcoming a physical barrier to access to ICT but do you have some examples of how the other issues can be overcome?

    I agree that it is important to have context driven and participatory approaches to education but how does this work in practice? Especially when in many cases teachers lack the time and resources to differentiate between students, do you have any suggestions as to how they can be given the support they need to implement ICT strategies?

    I also just wanted to say that this blog has provided me with some food for thought as I hadn’t really thought about disability through a development perspective until recently. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you for your comment and I’m glad you liked the post!

      I guess for students with other barriers, such as cognitive barriers, perhaps we need to consider using alternative software or other types of assistive technologies. The important thing I think is that we take all learners needs into account and assess individual’s specific needs. Here is a link to an interesting report on inclusive education if you want to have more ideas https://alana.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/educacao-inclusiva_ingles.pdf

      In terms of your second question, how to make this work in practice, I think that often, unfortunately, this has to do with what resources are available. If we use ICTs, we need to ensure that teachers receive adequate training and are given the necessary tools to carry out their job. However, this also requires policy measures and actions to work. Teachers are ultimately the ones on the frontline, but they can only carry out their misson if they are backed up with the necessary resources.

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