The “how to” of inclusive policy design

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The “how to” of inclusive policy design A focused approach is needed to ensure that every learner—including marginalized leaners such as persons with disabilities—can participate and benefit from education. Copyright: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Despite the considerable progress made to ensure equity in education, most vulnerable children, particularly learners with disabilities and/or additional educational or other support needs, are still left behind.

Persons with disabilities have traditionally been among the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. An estimated 50 percent of all young persons with disabilities living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) were excluded from education before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic impacted 1.6 billion youth globally, with the most marginalized learners having been impacted the most. Further, learning poverty is expected to increase. It was already estimated at 57 percent in LMICs in 2019, and this figure has been estimated to have increased to 70 percent as a result of the pandemic.

Why are more children with disabilities being left out despite rising global interest in building more inclusive education systems? The capacity to formulate and implement sound inclusive education policy remains a major constraint to reaching Sustainable Development Goal 4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Building inclusive education systems should be a starting point, not an afterthought.

Focusing on the “how to” instead of the “what”

Conversations around inclusive education policies often focus on “what” these policies entail. However, there remains a knowledge gap in the “how to”—the actionable steps necessary to build inclusive and equitable education systems. Bridging this gap requires efforts to deepen and widen the knowledge and skills of education policymakers, specialists, and other stakeholders.

Because many education systems have struggled with unprecedented disruptions related to COVID pandemic, climate change and increased inequalities, having access to learning, analysis and networks for inclusive education policy and innovations is more important now than ever before.

A focused approach is needed to ensure that every learner—including marginalized learners such as persons with disabilities—can participate and benefit from education.  The design and formulation of flexible education systems that are responsive to the diverse and often complex needs of individual learners is a fundamental component.

An academy tailored to countries' gaps and demand

To help meet these challenges, the World Bank introduced the Inclusive Education Policy Academy (IEPA), which currently focuses particularly on disability inclusion in education as part of its Education Policy Academies. It uses a participatory approach to develop tailor-made courses to meet the policy needs of individual countries.  

Inclusive education requires a multi-sectoral approach because learners with disabilities often face barriers outside of the education system that deter their access to education. IEPA promotes a multi-sectoral approach drawing on a variety of professional expertise, including social care and protection as well as health, among others. It identifies the important role of governments and other key stakeholders such as civil society organizations, organizations of persons with disabilities, academia, and the private sector in developing comprehensive inclusive education policies and programs.

To date, the IEPA has facilitated two cohorts of country-level participants. The first cohort was based in Rwanda (2021-22) and the second was a multi-country cohort consisting of Ethiopia, The Gambia and Zambia (2022-23). The IEPA has reached 67 participants across the four countries including representatives from the ministries of Education, Health, and other line ministries, civil society, academia, and the private sector. The academy has included live sessions on data needs for inclusive education, inclusive Education Management and Information Systems (EMIS), inclusive pre-service teacher education, professional development, and leadership. These sessions brought together regional and global experts from universities, think tanks, and global development partners.

How the IEPA is making an impact

Here are some examples of how the IEPA had made an impact in participating countries.

Resource centers: After participating in IEPA, phase 1, Rwanda’s Ministry of Education supported the University of Rwanda’s establishment of a model inclusive school. This school is an innovation hub and includes a resource center with therapeutic and counselling services, which are key in assessing special educational needs and supporting learners in the community.

Knowledge creation in universities: The University of Zambia is now exploring opportunities to introduce a Master in Inclusive Education program. Similarly, the university is considering changing the current course on Special Education Guidance and Counselling to Inclusive Education Guidance and Counselling. A university instructor from Zambia expressed that the IEPA, phase 1, widened the knowledge base and perspectives of educators, and these learnings were then transferred to the university students.

Establishing a regional community of practice: Participants in all four countries emphasized the need for ongoing professional networks. IEPA will therefore continue supporting the establishment of country-level and regional communities of practice to foster ongoing peer-support and professional learning amongst the stakeholders. The IEPA aims to strengthen these communities of practices through the establishment of Inclusive Education Fellows who will then share knowledge and expertise around inclusive education.

What’s next for IEPA? Welcoming a new partnership with the Scottish Government

The Scottish Government joined the Foundational Learning Compact (FLC) Trust Fund in January 2024 to support improvement in learning outcomes for children with a particular focus on inclusive education, which is also a cross-cutting theme for the FLC. This partnership is part of a new wider Scottish Government International Development Inclusive Education Programme with investment focused on its three African partner countries—Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia—which includes a heavy focus on support for learners with disabilities and additional support needs, as well as new scholarships to support women and girls.      

Through the FLC, the IEPA includes a phase I cohort for Malawi in the first half of 2024 followed by phase II for a multi-county cohort (Zambia, Rwanda, and Malawi). The World Bank is also initiating and implementing a 2-year Inclusive Education Fellows Program for Malawi, Zambia, and Rwanda. Finally, a multi-country cohort for phase III will invite selected participants to contribute to global events and platforms focusing on inclusive education.

Stay tuned for more information on the next steps of the IEPA. In the meantime, how can inclusive education policies be strengthened? We look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

This blog benefitted also from the contribution from the Scottish Government International Development Team.


Hanna Alasuutari

Senior Education Specialist

Laraib Niaz

Inclusive Education Consultant

Kanae Watanabe

Partnership Advisor, Education Global Practice

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