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COCO and Disabilities – Emma Silvester

COCO’s vision is a world where every child has access to quality education, and that includes children with disabilities. The UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities UNCRPD (2006) estimates indicate that only between 1 and 5% of disabled children attend any form of school in developing countries. The vast majority are still largely excluded from education and from society.

(Disability was defined at the UNCRPD as: "those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” and this is the definition used in this report.)

COCO has already provided security fencing for a school for disabled children in South Africa, and wheel chairs and wheelchair access for children in one of their existing partner schools. COCO has also recently partnered with an organisation called Building Caring Communities (BCC) who are based in Moshi, Tanzania. BCC have offered to provide training on support services for children with intellectual disabilities and their families, In return for sustainable agriculture training,  (For more information on these services please see:

My research looked into what more COCO can do to cater for children with disabilities in East Africa. First it addresses the debate around inclusion, and outlines the theory and research on how best to support children with disabilities get access to quality education. The International Policy Guidance advocates an “inclusive education system at all levels” so that “persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system to facilitate their effective education.” (UNCRPD, 2006, Article 24). However, children with disabilities have very diversified needs. Thus there is real debate over what an ‘effective education’ means for children with different kinds of impairment and whether it is possible to facilitate their effective education within mainstream settings which have (amongst other things) much larger class sizes. The debate is explored in much more depth in the report but as Frederickson & Cline put it, the “rights of a child to have maximum access to mainstream education need to be balanced by their right to an effective education, appropriate to their needs” (2009, p. 78).

The report then looks at the situation of children with disabilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. All three governments ratified the UNCRPD and agreed to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which made clear that

no one is to be left behind, particularly with regards to education. However inclusion (as the UNCRPD defines it) is at is nascent stage in these countries. Provision for children with disabilities is primarily limited to special schools, integrated schools and special units attached to regular schools. However, these governments have made concerted efforts towards increasing access to educational provision for children with disabilities. By adapting curriculums and examination conditions, creating educational resource centres, and giving schools capitation grants for students with special educational needs. In Uganda they have also allocated a Special Educational Needs Co-coordinator to each cluster of 20 schools.

Analysis of current research and National Policy documents revealed that the main barriers to inclusion and effective education of children with disabilities are:

  1. Negative social attitudes to these children in schools and in surrounding communities, lack of awareness about their capabilities.

  2. Lack of appropriate educational support materials/devices

  3. Lack of specialist teacher training and educational support services

Considering all of the above it is suggested that, at present, in East Africa inclusive systems that incorporate both special schools and partial or full inclusion of children into mainstream schools may be the best way to meet children’s diversified educational needs.

The report then looks at what other organisations such as ADD International, Disability Africa and Inclusion International are doing for children with disabilities in East Africa at the moment.

Finally the report recommends a number of different things COCO can do to cater more for children with disabilities in East Africa including:

Partner with and support local special schools so that teachers can share specialist skills and knowledge to enable the teachers in COCO’s partner schools to better support pupils with special needs. Children can be supported as they move along the continuum of provision from special schools to partial or full inclusion. Through this partnership students could have interactions and there could even be a similar arrangement to the play schemes that Disability Africa (  facilitate with the same fringe benefits for community and schools alike.

Teacher training. COCO could use the Hoja Teacher Training and Learning Centre to provide special needs training for teachers perhaps using the Inclusive Education Teacher’s Guide and Teacher’s Resource Pack [adapted from UNESCO] ( Existing teachers in COCO’s partner schools could also be given teacher resource packs on inclusion and how best to meet the learning needs of children with disabilities. Furthermore training on the identification and functional assessment of children with learning barriers could be offered.

Provide learning aids for students in COCO’s partner schools and neighbouring special schools. Aids such as glasses, hearing aids, wheel chairs, walking hand frames, braille books, large print books, sign language manuals and audiometers to assess children with hearing impairments, voice recorders and microphones, audiometers, white canes,  keyboards, computer assistive devices and programmes. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it would be dependent on the children’s individual needs and the staff’s training.

Raise awareness about the capabilities and rights of children with disabilities, using COCO’s partner schools as hubs from which to run awareness campaigns. As there is a current skew towards some disabilities rather than others there is a particular need for raising awareness about disabilities such as Autism.

Learning Support Centres, create these centres in COCO partner schools with high numbers of children with disabilities or special educational needs. These centres can be a hub from which children can receive support to ensure their effective education within ‘mainstream’ education.

Read Emma's full report here.

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