The Case for Local Business Support for Education in Nicaragua

School children attend their first day of class in Managua

Approximately one-third of all Nicaraguan students either repeat or drop out of the first grade. On a test of basic math skills in grade three, 60 percent of students scored in the lowest level or below. Unsurprisingly, a survey of business leaders indicated that the perceived quality of Nicaragua’s primary schools education ranks among the lowest in the world: 134 out of 142.

Considering Nicaragua faces an education quality crisis, external public and private donor financing is relatively low. A Brookings study examining the implications of donors’ new education strategies revealed that five countries, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, Sweden and Finland, will pull or severely reduce education support for Nicaragua this year. From 2006-2009, these donors’ contributions averaged 35 percent of the country’s total basic education expenditures. In our assessment of corporate social investments, only 6 percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies that invest in education direct resources to Nicaragua and less than 10 percent of the largest Latin American companies that invest in education direct support to Nicaragua.

Given this bleak assessment, the time for the Nicaraguan business community to step up and support the government’s provision of education could not be greater. The business case is simple: investing in education in Nicaragua is an investment in both current and future employees, the safety and stability of the communities where businesses operate, the potential purchasing power of consumers, and a company’s reputation.

This week, while visiting business-led education initiatives in Nicaragua, two companies stood out as examples of the private sector supporting education in the country:

Telefónica: The Aula Fundación Telefónica (Telefónica Foundation Classroom) program supports teacher quality in marginalized public schools. A participating school dedicates a classroom to the project and the foundation provides internet connectivity, computers, projectors, audio and a host of other technology resources. Professional development workshops for teachers focus on how to use technology to improve pedagogical practices within the existing curriculum. Teachers are also connected to a network of educators across Latin America and are able to share experiences and successful tactics with each other. While visiting a public school in Managua, Colegio Francisco Morazán, I observed a team of teachers using the Telefónica Foundation Classroom to teach a lesson about planet earth and the seasons of the year. The third-graders were highly engaged in the content and discussions. Primarily in urban regions of the country, Telefónica has committed to expanding the program throughout rural areas over the next several years.

Plasencia: In the town of Esteli, known for its 22 cigar manufacturing plants, one company, Plasencia, has piloted a full-scale education program for its employees. Across the street from a manufacturing plant, the company has built an early childhood development center for employee’s children up to age six. The program uses a project-based, active-learning curriculum, integrates nutrition into the curriculum, has courses for parents on child development, and provides an onsite psychologist for students and parents. For employees, the company pays university tuition, contingent upon good performance in the courses. The goal is for the program to expand to all of the companies’ factories, and through groups likeEmpresarios por la Educación, an association of businesses for education, expand the model to other factory-based industries throughout the country.

Despite the dire state of funding and the relatively poor quality of education in the country, there is already an understanding from some members the business community – as exemplified by Telefonica and Plasencia’s programs – that they have the opportunity to make a sustainable impact. A forum on best practices on corporate social investments in education, organized by Eduquemos Empresarios por la Educación and PREAL’s Business Education Alliance Program (Programa Alianza Educación Empresa, PAEE), brought together business leaders, local think tanks, and the education community. PAEE invited the Brookings Center for Universal Education to present its recent research on corporate social investments in education. Leaving the meeting, there was a clear sense that greater engagement and investments in education by the business community could create a shared business and social value. While not without challenges, I left optimistic that if the business community works with each other and the government, they can be strong advocates for quality education for all young people in Nicaragua and catalyze systemic change.



For Syrian children and youth, education is the front line

A Syrian child inspects a book in the Hussien Zein school in the Damascus suburb of Sahnaya September 14, 2014.

Annette was a young girl of 10 when I met her in a refugee camp in southwest Uganda. She had recently fled war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Surrounded by ongoing fighting in the camp, with not enough to eat, her family torn apart, she retained a bright smile. I soon understood why. “Education will lead me to my dreams for the future,” she told me. Every day, she put on her bright pink uniform and went to school.

Like most refugees, Annette hoped, and truly believed, that she would soon return to her home country. That was until the day her father planted bananas around their compound. Bananas are a long-to-mature crop—you only plant them when you know you will be remaining somewhere for a long time. For most Syrians in exile, the time has come, metaphorically, to plant bananas.

Education is central to the planting of this future.

Refugee children and youth need high quality education that will allow them to be safe and engaged in the present, and enable them to be productive and happy civically and economically in the future. But what will this future be? As educators and parents in any part of the world, we are always imagining the future as we think about what is important for our children to know and understand. We make our best predictions and we follow a path.

No place to go

The unknown future that refugee children and youth face is extreme. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) outlines three durable solutions for refugees: either return to their home country, local integration in the immediate country of exile, or resettlement to a third country such as the United States or Canada. For Amina, a young Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, none of these “solutions” seem all that durable. It is unsafe to return to Syria, life in exile in Lebanon is increasingly precarious, and only 1 percent of refugees globally are resettled.

Amina is one of 2 million Syrian children displaced outside of Syria and 5.6 million children living amid the devastating conflict inside Syria. Most of them see no future in front of them. In Turkey alone, more than 400,000 Syrian children are out of school. Lebanese television last week aired footage of Syrian children being physically beaten in their Beirut schools. More than half of U.S. governors say refugees are simply not welcome.

Despite the uncertainty, Amina wants to go to school. For her, education is the durable solution. Yet the kind of education she receives will determine the future pathways open to her. Decisions about appropriate curriculum, language, and certification all hinge on a conception of what her future will be.

Take the example of Henri. Henri was a Burundian refugee living in exile in Tanzania. When he was in primary school, he studied according to the Tanzanian curriculum in English and Kiswahili. In secondary school, the policy shifted and, all of a sudden, he could only study the Burundian curriculum in French and Kirundi. In his last year of secondary school, his refugee camp was closed and he had to flee to another camp, where he studied the Congolese curriculum in French. When he returned to Burundi, after 18 years of exile, he was hopeful that he could join the university and take part in the reconstruction of his country. There were no educational re-integration programs available to him, no intensive language courses. And without enough fluency in French and no consistency in the curriculum he had followed, he was denied.

Providing a quality education for young refugees

We know what a future denied can lead to—for individuals, for families, for communities. While there is much we cannot know about the future of young Syrian refugees, we must avoid Henri’s educational experiences for contemporary Syrian refugees. To do so, we need to focus on the dimensions of what we do know about the future.

We know that exile is an integral part of a refugee’s future. The average length of exile for refugees is 17 years. That’s the equivalent of a child’s whole shot at education, from birth to high school graduation. With this knowledge, we know that Syrian refugees do not need temporary education programs. They need access to a complete education. Preferably, they need to be fully included in the national education system of the country of refuge.

This inclusive approach is not easy in Istanbul or Beirut, in New York, or Berlin. Imagine one out of four students in your own child’s class recently arrived from a deadly war. But integration in schools reflects what we all seek for our children: stability.

To build a future in the midst of uncertainty, refugee children need teachers who are trained, a well-developed curriculum that builds skills and knowledge, and the possibility of certifying their learning. These elements are more likely to be present in national education systems than in refugee-only schools or temporary programs.

Being physically included in national schools is critical to building strong futures for refugee children. But physical inclusion is only the first step for what really matters: support for learning. Over the past decade, we have uncovered four critical dimensions of this support for refugees’ learning.

Refugee children cannot learn if they are not physically and emotionally safe. Syrian refugee parents describe to us how they fear sending their children to schools due to ongoing physical and emotional bullying. These experiences undermine stability not only for refugees but for national communities. Teachers need training and ongoing support to help refugee and national students understand each other and get along. Globally, this is the number one request from teachers of refugees. This training may seem a luxury, especially in national systems where teachers are trained. It is not. Children who do not feel safe in school cannot learn and quickly become marginalized from their peers and communities.

Refugee children also cannot learn if they don’t know the language. They need intensive language programs before enrolling in national schools and ongoing support through the first few years. I have been in too many classrooms where refugee teenagers cram themselves into tiny benches or sit on the floor in early primary classrooms because that is where language learning happens. This is one quick pathway to drop-out and disillusionment. Digital tools could play an important role in creating language and text-rich environments in the new language—but they are a complement for the relationships that encourage true immersion in a language.

Refugee children’s learning will not lead them to the future they imagine if it is not certified. Most of us probably don’t even know where our diplomas are, yet without recognized certificates of learning, refugees are denied access to education and to the economic opportunities that completion opens up. In northern Kenya, the Borderless Higher Education Consortium, of which I am part, has developed a jointly certified higher education program for Somali refugees, with accreditation through Canadian and Kenyan universities. The intention is to open possibilities for the unknown future. The same is essential for Syrian refugees. No matter where Syrian refugee children continue their education and seek employment in the future, they need to know that their previous learning will be recognized. Support for the creation of educational management systems that can be regionally integrated will be crucial.

Finally, refugee children need to learn through education that they belong, wherever they may be. We are horribly fixated on ideas of belonging that center on the nation-state and rest on exclusion. The conflict in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis is forcing us to confront realities of migration and dilemmas of inclusion that we cannot build walls to fix. While the ultimate future may be unknowable, the current and foreseeable reality is that Syrian children will be in school in exile—and the exclusive national identities often presented to them in history class and social encounters breed resentment and disengagement. Fostering peace amid ethnic and linguistic diversity requires additive national identities that do not ignore the importance of culture and language but reflect contemporary mobility of place and ideas, and of who belongs.

No one flees their home lightly. Families sometimes flee when their physical safety is threatened. Families sometimes flee when their economic livelihoods crumble. Families almost always flee when they can’t imagine a future for their children. And they will continue to move until they can secure that future. In our world, that future is education.



The refugee crisis in Europe: Bridging the education gap for Syrians in Turkey

A girl looks on as schoolchildren walk on a street in southern countryside of Idlib, Syria, September 20, 2015.

After the ISIS attack in Paris in November—the deadliest terrorist episode in the European Union in over a decade—nations fell divided, with some holding firm on their commitment to welcome Syrians, while others reproached refugees for fear of terrorist infiltration.

Amid this disappointing debate, it is clear that Syrian children are the lasting victims of a war that has shattered their families, homes, and schools. Responding to the refugee crisis has never been more important, and now in Turkey—the country that hosts the largest number of Syrians—there is an opportunity to reach over 400,000 Syrian children who are out of school.

This opportunity developed as the Turkish government responded to three different phases of the Syrian education refugee crisis.

Three phases of the education refugee crisis

In the first phase of the refugee crisis starting in 2011, many analysts predicted the Syrian war would be short-lived. Turkey’s government welcomed Syrians as guests and housed them in camps said to be the best in the world. By the end of 2013, there were 20 camps on the southern border, and in those camps most children were attending school. The Turkish government led the response with support from the United Nations.

In 2014, in a second stage of the refugee crisis, Turkish camps hit capacity after admitting over 200,000 Syrians. With borders closing to Syrians in neighboring countries, the number of Syrians flooding into Turkey ratcheted up. A string of protests against Syrians flared in the south.

Syrian-run schools funded with private money, often from the Gulf, became the main source of refugee education. The Turkish government cleared the way for the U.N. to build schools outside of camps in southern provinces, by passing legislation for the temporary protection of Syrians, providing the right to education.

The refugee crisis entered a third, critical phase in October of 2014, when ISIS sieged hundreds of villages around Kobane. An additional 400,000 Syrians from Kurdish areas crossed Turkey’s southern border.

As the number of refugees in Turkey approached 2 million, Turkey registered a number of international education nonprofits and developed an institutional framework for Syrian children based on the right to education in formal schools and Arabic-language “temporary education centers.”

Three spheres to support Syrian education

Today, Turkey is providing education to 200,000 children and has committed to double this number by the end of the school year. To support Turkey’s efforts there are three spheres where international actors can engage.

First, almost 40,000 Syrian children are studying in Turkish public schools. Language is the most formidable barrier to enrollment, especially for older children who struggle to learn by immersion. Language support programs are limited, and teachers don’t receive training for multilingual classrooms.

Hidden education fees and a lack of transportation keep other children out. Many families don’t know their right to enroll, or report being turned away by school headmasters who are not aware of new regulations. The strain on the school system is also an issue: Syrian families often settle in low-income neighborhoods where education systems are already in need of support.

With no end to the war in Syria in sight, many Syrian children are in Turkey to stay and they need to adapt to the language and culture to be successful. Working with the Turkish government and complementary organizations to address the challenges to Syrian student’s enrollment and learning in formal education, with an eye to the quality of education, is possibly the most important long-term investment that international partners can make.

Second, the Turkish government expanded educational options for Syrians through temporary education centers (TECs), often operated in the afternoon from 1:30-5:00pm in public school buildings. Classes are in Arabic, taught by Syrians, based on a modified Syrian curriculum. The ministry and the Syrian Interim Government jointly offer school-leaving exams.

TECs provide an educational option for families that want their children to learn in Arabic among their Syrian peers, an important choice for children who have been through immeasurable strain and loss. TECs are significantly less expensive to operate than formal education.

There are not yet enough TECs in the country to meet demand for enrollment, especially at the high school level. Syrian teachers receive small stipends, as they cannot be employed in Turkey. Areas for TEC partnership include building classrooms, teacher training and support, and the provision of materials and technology that support learning.

The Turkish government has spent over $6 billion on Syria refugees, and now seeks direct financial support for their national program. Individual provinces, especially those with large numbers of Syrians, can develop direct partnerships.

The third sphere for engaging in Turkey is outside the traditional classroom, where Syrians and Turks, driven by their shared history and culture, are starting and building small organizations to address the issues they see on the front lines of the education crisis.

These efforts boost demand for education among Syrians by strengthening families. Some offer alternatives, for instance to the Sunni Islamic lessons in formal schools. Other groups combat child labor by seeking labor permits and decent work for parents.

I visited with one such group on the Syrian border in Kilis, an ancient city where Syrians now outnumber Turks. There, the mayor led me to the Keramat Center, founded by Najlaa Sheekh of northern Syria. Together with 18 mothers, she started one of the only centers for Syrian women in southern Turkey.

After walking through the knitting workshop, Najbaa took me to the heart of Keramat: the preschool below. There, I found children singing the English alphabet. They are also learning Turkish, and so are their mothers. These small children are getting unusual support at the pre-primary level: Many have siblings just a few years older who are already working to support their families.

In the Kilis Square this Ramadan, Najbaa and the other Syrian women sat around a long rug near the mayor’s family, breaking fast. Najbaa told me that, “Keramat” means generosity, named for the many Turks and Syrians working together for Syrian children.

Turkey has spent more on Syrian refugees than any other country worldwide. With legislation, planning, and partners on the ground, the main ingredient lacking now is global action.

This blog was adapted from a speech given by the author at a State Department event in Washington DC, titled “Bridging the education gap for refugee children in Turkey.”



Connected learning: How is mobile technology impacting education?

Students take notes from their iPads

Despite the emergence of digital learning models, most countries around the world still design their educational systems for agrarian and industrial eras rather than modern society, writes Darrell West in a new paper. In “Connected learning: How mobile technology can improve education,” West points out how a lack of education technology access is detrimental to young people entering the labor force as well as teachers and parents who want children to compete in the global economy. As the economy shifts and technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning improve, countries will need to update their curricula in order to train students with new skills for the 21st century.

West focuses specifically on mobile technology and focuses on ways devices with cellular connectivity improve learning and engage students and teachers. He points to the variety of educational benefits mobile technologies have for learning, including the personalization of education, real-time assessment, the increase in innovative practices, and the empowerment of women and those who are disadvantaged.

Personalized education

The paper explains how one of the applications of mobile devices to education is their ability to customize content for individual students. This feature can work well, especially as teachers in many nations deal with classrooms of diverse students with varied backgrounds and interests who learn in unique ways. Technology is a ubiquitous part of young peoples’ lives, and mobile learning is able to transcend the classroom’s bounds. Students can pursue their passions in education and seek answers to their basic questions.

The massive amount of information available at one’s fingertips has the capacity to allow for in-depth exploration of interests and the use of a variety of textual, visual, and auditory learning experiences. As West mentions, studies show that students are quite open to using technology for learning and that they are aware of new learning tools such as online courses, virtual reality, and video games for instructional purposes.

Real-time assessment

West describes the benefits of embedding assessment within learning tools. These tools can free educators from the mundane task of grading rote items and provide immediate feedback for students. Mobile devices provide detailed metrics and data that can lead to instantaneous assessment and feedback on whether or not students are meeting educational goals.

The efficiencies of technology can ensure that students who are falling behind get a chance to learn important concepts and that students who are ahead do not get bored with material they have already mastered. Using software, teachers can create dashboards to track individual student achievement on his or her learning curve to categorize students and assess what actions should be taken. West argues that under the status quo in education, neither advanced students nor those requiring extra help are having their needs met in traditional classroom settings.

Innovative practices

Beyond providing greater classroom efficiencies, the paper discusses how digital technologies increase the variety of classroom models. This flexibility results in more focused learning systems where students have more agency in their education and teachers can emphasize advanced problem-solving and critical thinking skills, creating a more satisfying educational environment for all those involved.

As an example of innovation in the classroom, the paper highlights a study of Turkish classrooms[1] that experimented with blogs and found improvements in student achievement. For instance, comparing undergraduates before and after a computer class demonstrated that those who collaborated through blogs and social media achieved higher scores than those who did not. This led researchers to conclude: “blogs can be used as supplementary mediums to promote achievement and knowledge acquisition.” Mobile and the use of social networks also provide new platforms for reaching the millions of children and adolescents who are currently not enrolled in school.

Empowering women and the disadvantaged

West also outlines the ways that women and the disadvantaged are empowered by access to technology in education. Digital tools help increase connectivity and access to information, along with access to financial and business opportunities. He also suggests that online courses that are available for free, such as Coursera’s “massive open online courses” (MOOCs), help decrease educational disparity. While one can usually enroll in these MOOCs without charge, obtaining a verified certificate typically incurs a fee. West looks again to an example from Turkey. He writes about an innovative program called “Snowdrops” developed by Turkcell and the Association in Support of Contemporary Living has provided thousands of women with new opportunities, some of which are delivered through online learning MOOCs.

West also touches on the impact of the Internet of Things and its increasing influence on contemporary life. Improvements in technology, in conjunction with an investment in education, he explains, will have a major impact on economic growth in the future.


West explains that there already exists a wide array of digital content available to students and teachers. This includes instructional games, augmented reality, interactive websites, and personalized instruction. The virtue of such electronic information is the greater control students have over their curriculum, allowing them to proceed at their own pace and in their own style.

The digital revolution enables real-time assessment of student performance. Finally, mobile technology can transform learning and act as a catalyst for creating impactful change in the current system. West concludes by saying that connected learning through the use of technology is crucial to student development in the areas of critical-thinking and collaborative learning. Those are the skills that young people need in order to secure their place in the globally competitive economy.


5 steps to revitalize India’s higher education system

The Indian higher education system commanded awe and respect in the ancient world. Important seats of learning likeNalanda and Takshashila attracted the best students and academics from across the globe. Unfortunately, over a period of time, our higher education system lost its global competitiveness. This is exemplified by the fact that not many Indian higher education institutions feature in the annual world university rankings like the Times Higher Education World University Rankings or the QS World University Rankings.

This gradual decline in global competitiveness can be attributed to a multitude of factors. Let me list some of the more important concerns and the way to redress them.

First is the lack of incentives for research. The amount of funding that is currently available for research inIndian universities is meagre by global standards. Apart from increasing the quantum of funds — and promoting specific research on the state of the Indian higher education system itself — there is a need for significant reform in the overall policy and management framework of disbursing research grants.

For example, the existing framework to disburse grants is a multilayered and complex, leading to inordinate delays, frustration and loss of research focus among faculty members who are trying to secure these grants. A pro-active regulatory mechanism set up by ministries like MHRD can help mitigate these concerns.

Further, there is need to attract and retain faculty with good research skills. This will require a review of the current system of faculty recruitment, appraisal, assessment, promotions and rewards based on performance as measured through research contributions and publications.

Secondly, we do not have world class training programmes for academic administrators. High quality education administration is one of the seriously ignored aspects of the Indian higher education system. As providers of relevant educational support services, academic administrators form the backbone of any educational institution, especially one that aspires to constantly improve the academic experience of its students and teachers.

Indeed, a world-class university requires world-class faculty supported by a world-class administration. Unfortunately, there are no comprehensive training programmes for academic administrators in India who deal with different nuances of our higher education system.

Specifically, the lack of managerial training programmes for higher authorities in education administration has compromised the evolution of generic best practices in the sector. Institution-building has suffered and creativity has been stifled as the Indian higher education system continues to be driven by individual persona and the charm of education administrators instead of adherence to sustainable and institution-driven quality assurance mechanisms and innovative processes.

Thirdly, we need a more outward-looking approach. One of the strongest critiques of Indian higher education institutions is that they tend to get complacent with little success. Unique socio-political contexts cannot be used to justify the lack of sustained global competitiveness. There is a need for a renaissance in our attitude toward higher education. There is also a need to understand and contextualise global best practices for Indian conditions, for instance, in course design and pedagogy.

Indeed, international collaborations in the form of student exchanges, faculty exchanges, joint teaching, joint research, joint conferences, joint publications, joint executive education programmes, summer and winter schools and study-abroad programmes are ways to promote the global engagement of Indian higher education institutions.

Fourth, we have failed to appreciate inter-disciplinarity in higher education. There is a dearth of courses and programmes in India that offer inter-disciplinary perspectives. Considering the fact that most of our societal problems cannot be solved by experts from a single academic discipline, there is a need for better coordination and synergy between experts from different academic disciplines to find sustainable solutions to the challenging problems faced by our country.

This will make higher education relevant to both Indian and global society. Thus, specialised training in a particular academic discipline must be complemented by generic inter-disciplinary courses. The government should play a pro-active role in setting up and promoting universities offering inter-disciplinary courses in India.

Making quality education accessible to children with disabilities


  • An estimated 1/3rd of the 58 million children who remain out of primary school have a disability.
  • The SDGs call for access to quality education for all children by 2030, which requires strong action on inclusion of disadvantaged children, including those with disabilities.
  • World Bank Group support on this front ranges from building accessible classrooms in Togo to large-scale mainstream inclusion through India’s massive Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program.

December 3, 2015–While the developing world has made strong progress towards universal primary education, the Sustainable Development Goals adopted at the United Nations this September now call for access to quality education for all children by 2030, and opportunities for lifelong learning.

Education is still largely an unfulfilled dream for 250 million children who have been to school but cannot read or write. As the world begins to tackle this massive learning crisis, getting children with disabilities and other disadvantages into school and learning requires focused and simultaneous action.

According to the International Labor Organization, between 785 and 975 million persons with disabilities are estimated to be of working age, but most do not work. While there are many examples of their individual success, as a group they often face disproportionate poverty and unemployment.

Large numbers of vulnerable children continue to be at serious risk of future losses due to disability. In a July 2015 paper,Towards a Disability Inclusive Education, a team of global experts notes that of the 58 million out-of-school children at the primary level alone, an estimated one-third have a disability.

The paper also notes that data on learning outcomes among children with disabilities is very limited, and there are widespread misperceptions about the cost of educating these children. Yet the returns to education for children with disability are strikingly high—19% to 26% as estimated by a study in Nepal.

Developing countries across the world are starting to make progress in the right direction. The World Bank Group has supported inclusive education for children with disabilities across a wide range of countries, including Bulgaria, India, Togo, and Vietnam, to name just a few.

Starting early in Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, many vulnerable children, including from the Roma community, reach school age without the basic head start that others routinely receive. Through the Bulgaria Social Inclusion Project, children from marginalized backgrounds and those with disabilities have been receiving more inclusive opportunities at an early age.

The project has helped these children enroll in kindergarten and receive the integrated social, health, and childcare services that is so critical to their future. Over 1,700 children with disabilities have benefited from early intervention services, and over 360 of them have been enrolled in mainstream kindergarten and preschool groups.

Inclusion of people with disabilities is clearly recognized as a rights-based issue in Bulgaria, and in fact in many other countries. Over 150 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, now giving it the force of national law within their borders.

In addition to this dimension, disability is also an economic issue at the national level. An exploratory ILO study in 2010 estimated that among the 10 low and middle-income countries included, macroeconomic losses related to disabilities range from 3% (Malawi) of 2006 GDP to 7% (South Africa).

Teaching sign language in Vietnam

Another example of starting early for long-term gain is the Intergenerational Deaf Education Outreach program in Vietnam, which operates in Hanoi, Thai Nguyen, Quang Binh and Ho Chi Minh City.

This pilot program supported by the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) has brought families, institutions, and service providers together in an integrated effort to teach deaf children sign language at a very young age, helping them to get ready to learn when they enter formal primary school.

Through the pilot, 260 deaf children have been served by family support teams, with dramatic progress in cognitive and language development. Over 100 deaf family mentors and sign language interpreters have been certified by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, and twice that number of hearing teachers have learnt sign language and ways to support deaf children in school.

As a recent video shows, holistic support to these children has been transformative. The film tells the story of Linh and Tu, a sister and brother who have been deaf since birth but can now communicate with their family in sign language as a result of home visits by a trained teacher.

The challenge in the final year of the pilot is to prepare for the potential adoption and replication of this model across Vietnam. Key priorities are to digitize education resources, mobilize local funds, share the advantages of the model, and take steps to ensure that quality of services remains a high priority.

Testing innovative methods in Malawi

Another JSDF-financed effort is the Malawi Inclusive Education for Disabled Children project, which is testing innovative methods to raise enrollment among children with disabilities who are not in mainstream schools, and also supports the development of an inclusive education policy.

Activities have ranged from sensitization and community mobilization campaigns in 150 schools, bringing together all stakeholders, developing various sets of guidelines including for disability screening, training 630 teachers on inclusive education and providing hands-on support in 30 schools.

A module has been developed to collect information on disabled children and monitor their regular activities. The Ministry of Education will incorporate this module in its Education Management Information System (EMIS).   Ministry staff have also been trained on inclusive policies and practices.

Building accessible classrooms in Togo

Togo, a small country on the coast of West Africa, has recently taken action to support children with disabilities through the Togo Education and Institutional Strengthening Project. Paying attention to the needs of every child in terms of accessible school infrastructure has been an important step forward.

Funded by a grant from the Global Partnership for Education, the project covered the building of nearly 1,000 classrooms accessible by children with disabilities. These classrooms now serve over 42,000 children, including those with disabilities, expanding the reach and inclusiveness of basic education.

Tackling disabilities at scale in India

With the passing of the Right to Education Act in 2009, India’s nationwide Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program has sought to bring all children into elementary school, including those with disabilities. The scale of the program is enormous, serving 200 million children—a group that is larger than the entire population of Nigeria, the world’s seventh-largest country.

One of the results indicators within this World Bank-supported national program is the enrollment of children identified as having special needs into primary and upper primary school. The share of children with special needs enrolled at this level has risen from 84% in 2012-13 to nearly 90% today. This is a total of 2.5 million children.

In addition, over 116,000 children with special needs receive home-based education, taking the total coverage of identified children to 96% or nearly 2.7 million under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Ongoing challenges include identifying and serving the remaining children with special needs in India, and raising the quality of education for them.

Indian states are innovating within this program to try to offer greater support to disadvantaged children. In Bihar state’s Jehanabad district, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs)—residential school facilities that have been set up across the country for girls from underprivileged communities—are now trying to accommodate girls with visual impairment and help them catch up on lost learning.

A video shot in Jehanabad opens with Reebha Kumari, a girl with a visual impairment, learning martial arts in the KGBV courtyard alongside girls who have sight. After intensive support from teachers who helped her acquire the skills she needed to attend school and learn, Reebha now attends the mainstream Government Upper Primary School next door. She studies in Grade 6.

Another visually impaired student, Gudiya Kumari, who is in Grade 7, describes her own early fears about going to school and what kind of teachers she would have to face. She recalls how the other girls would at first crowd around the girls who couldn’t see, curious about how they would manage. “Gradually, they realized that we are indeed capable of studying,” she says.

Inclusion of children with disabilities into mainstream education has the power to change these children’s destinies,” saidClaudia Costin, World Bank Senior Director for Education. “It is the right of each and every child to have access to quality education, and while efforts to increase learning in schools are critical, they should not come at the cost of excluding children with disa