Expert Q&A: Supporting students with disability – a resource kit for inclusive education

We know from reader feedback that supporting students with additional needs is a topic of interest to the Teacher community, and that you’d also like to see more content on inclusive education.

The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Centre has published a learning and development resource kit with guides and handbooks on disability-inclusive education from across the globe. It was developed as part of a review of evidence of teacher professional development programs on disability-inclusion in the Asia-Pacific region.

In today’s expert Q&A we talk to Kashfee Ahmed, Research Fellow in ACER's School and System Improvement research program, about the new resource kit and the importance of equipping teachers with the right tools and training to support students with disability.

The resource kit was developed during a review of evidence on teacher professional development programs on disability-inclusion in low- and middle-income countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Can you tell us a bit about the study and what you found?

Through this review, we identified 50 studies on teacher professional development programs that support disability-inclusive education from early years to year 12 in low- and middle-income countries in the Asia-Pacific region. These studies were found in only 16 of the 41 low- and middle-income countries in the region. These figures demonstrate evidence gaps in teacher professional development programs in the region.

Looking at the results more closely, only 3 studies included interventions to support mental health among students with disability. And, only one study identified an intervention to support students with physical disabilities as part of a larger teacher development program. Ultimately, our findings suggest the need to undertake robust evaluations of disability-inclusive teacher professional development interventions.

The evidence from this review is presented in an Evidence and Gap Map and published in the Campbell Systematic Reviews Journal. Our research was funded by the GEM Centre, a long-term partnership between ACER and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. One of the program areas for the GEM Centre, that I lead, is the analysis and synthesis of secondary data. We transform research findings into useful outputs for effective policies, practices and investment decisions for education stakeholders.

After reviewing dozens of resources as part of the review, our research team came up with the idea to collate and share these resources more widely through an online resource kit.

Why is it so important for teachers to undertake professional development in disability-inclusive education?

Decades of international research and classroom observations have taught us that teachers play a critical role in the learning and wellbeing of their students. Therefore, it is essential that they have the training and resources needed to ensure that all students can access quality education.

Professional development programs on disability-inclusive education help teachers to navigate school policies that support students with disability and potential accessibility issues for their students. Such training can improve the attitudes of teachers towards inclusive education and increase their knowledge and understanding of disabilities.

It is equally important for education systems to assist teachers to develop the capabilities and confidence necessary to be inclusive of students with disability. Many teachers in low- and middle-income countries may not have received training on supporting students with disability during their pre-service education.

Disability-inclusive teacher professional development programs provide teachers with the classroom tools and teaching and learning materials they need to cater to the needs of students with disability. They also enable teachers to plan flexible curricula, teaching strategies, and inclusive assessments, and to consider ways to build positive and healthy school environments.

Can you explain the types of resources that are included in the resource kit to support teachers?

Firstly, I’d like to mention that our list of resources is open access and free for anyone involved in education. We’ve included a wide range of classroom resources, such as manuals, guides, fact sheets and videos from both high- and low-income contexts. Most of these resources can be downloaded and adapted to assist teachers with inclusive lesson planning and delivery.

We have designed the resource kit so that users can search for specific terms, for example specific disabilities such as autism, or education levels such as primary school. It’s also possible to filter by the year of publication, country, and type of resource. By applying the filter, teachers can locate resources from their region, or from countries with similar contexts.

We’ve kept in mind the use of the resources by many different audiences, grouping the resources based on their characteristics into 4 audience types: leaders; educators/teachers; learning community members; and policymakers. This functionality enables searches by the different user groups.

While the resource kit is not exhaustive, more than 110 resources have been collated from countries around the world. To date, this is the most comprehensive repository of open-access resources from different education systems, not-for-profits, development agencies and partner organisations.

In your opinion, what can teachers do to support students with disability in their classrooms?

Teachers can work with other school staff, such as their school leaders, inclusive education coordinators, and other support staff and disability workers to design and deliver tailored activities and support for students with disability in their classrooms. This resource kit can supplement local resources and tools to provide teachers with access to tried and tested resources outside those offered through the school system. They can also use the resources as part of their own learning and development, and work with colleagues to explore how these disability-inclusive strategies can be modified to meet the needs of students in their own classroom. This becomes particularly crucial in rural and remote schools where teachers may not have access to many professional development opportunities or professional support staff.

Funding availability may be another issue, as not all schools can purchase or have quick access to the resources needed to benefit students with disability in their classrooms.

How can schools use this resource kit to build capacity in disability-inclusive education?

All schools are complex, and each have their own set of characteristics and challenges that impact wellbeing and learning for all students. Principals and school leaders can access additional information from this resource kit to inform their planning activities. They can refer to the materials compiled from countries right around the world and adapt them to create learning modules for their teachers that meet the needs of their local context.

Libraries and special educators in schools across India can also support the uptake of these resources, by ensuring the toolkit is readily accessible to their school leaders and teachers.

When was the last time you (or your colleagues) participated in disability-inclusive professional development?

Think about the specific needs of students with disability in your school. Is there any information in this resource kit related to these needs? How could you use this information to inform your planning activities?