Education’s Missing Millions: Including Disabled Children in Education through EFA FTI Processes and National Sector Plans

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This study focuses on how the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (FTI) Partnership is tackling the challenges of disability and inclusion. Its purpose is to assess the disability responsiveness of FTI processes and education sector plans thus far; formulate recommendations to strengthen current processes, tools and partnership mechanisms; and identify new opportunities through which the FTI can better address the issue of disability and education.


The study comprises a review of the FTI endorsement guidelines and processes with reference to disability and inclusion, including donor assessments of plans; analysis of the 28 country education sector plans endorsed by the FTI between 2002 and 2006; two detailed country case studies; and a review of policy and practice in other selected countries, some of which are now preparing for FTI endorsement. It also looks at the extent to which the FTI Education Programme Development Fund (EPDF) has focused on disability and inclusion and at donor perspectives and harmonisation in relation to disability and inclusion.


In reviewing country plans, the study took as its starting point that plans should:

  • reflect international commitments to the rights of disabled children to be educated;
  • identify the number of disabled children and assess their needs;
  • have strategies on key aspects of provision such as making school buildings accessible and the development of curriculum, teaching methods and materials to meet a diversity of needs, with appropriate management arrangements;
  • aim to develop capacity, through scaling up of provision, and training programmes;
  • acknowledge the importance of parental support and community involvement;
  • include appropriate and sufficient financing;
  • address monitoring and evaluation, including improvements in student data and other information.


No country met all the above criteria. However, a number of FTI endorsed countries, particularly those which are approaching universal primary education, do now have education sector plans which address the inclusion of disabled children. Most of these plans focus on making regular schools more inclusive, through improvements in teacher training and provision of additional learning materials and support, though some also retain some special provision. A few countries are also setting targets for enrolment and instituting financial and other incentives to encourage schools to become more inclusive. Some link disability to other initiatives to increase equity and reach excluded children.

However, in a number of countries, policies and provision for disabled children remain cursory or have not been implemented. Key gaps include:

  • lack of data on the number of disabled children in total, the proportion enrolled in and out of school, and the range of provision;
  • insufficient planning across a range of measures to improve provision, respond to the diversity of learning needs and increase capacity;
  • few financial projections of costs, or use of funding mechanisms and incentives to encourage and support inclusion;
  • limited approaches to partnership with parents, communities, NGOs;
  • weak inter-ministry/sectoral/services links.

There is also insufficient clarity on policy approaches, particularly the differences between ‘integration’ (location of individual children in current provision) and ‘inclusion’ (systematic change to accommodate diversity). However there are some examples of promising practice at local level, many of which have been initiated by international and national NGOs and which demonstrate both the benefits and the practicalities of inclusion.

In relation to FTI processes and support, the FTI is concerned with the participation of disabled children as part of its focus on universal primary completion (UPC), and endorsement process guidelines refer to disability as one of the areas which education plans should address.

However, having an explicit policy on disability is not identified as a critical aspect of education sector plans.

Some country donor partner assessments evaluate whether countries’ education plans address disability but others do not and there also seem to be considerable differences between donors as to policies, and levels of advocacy and support, in relation to disability and education. The Education Programme Development Fund (EPDF), which has supported a number of countries to develop plans and capacity, does not seem to have included disability as a priority or to have been used to foster information exchange on policies and strategies in relation to disability and inclusion in education.

The main conclusion of this study is that taking together both FTI endorsement processes and funding support, and country plans and donor assessments, the FTI Partnership could be considered as not yet being responsive enough to disability. Current developments in policies and strategies on disability and inclusion cannot be attributed to its influence. However, the Partnership has the capacity to catalyse increasing concern with the inclusion of disabled children into effective policies, planning, implementation and monitoring at country level. The Partnership could also facilitate information and practice exchange and help to fill knowledge gaps. It could also advance global commitment to inclusive policies and provision as a priority issue in relation to achieving universal primary completion and to secure agreement on the policy expectations, most effective strategies and support and advocacy mechanisms which will make inclusion more of a reality.

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