GCRF Network Plus: Disability under Siege

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Education


There is an established link between conflict and protracted instability, and poor development outcomes (World Bank, 2011) . For many Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) the presence, and legacy, of violence within their own borders or in neighbouring states hinders existing efforts to enhance development, while also placing additional burdens upon the state.

The consequences of conflict and crisis echo throughout society, but the challenge it poses for education provision for those with disabilities is particularly acute. Instability erodes existing capacity, whilst simultaneously increasing demand, as the proportion of the population with a disability, either as a result of physical or psychological trauma, rises. Research commissioned by UNICEF indicates that over 85% of children with disabilities have never attended school (Mizanoya et al. 2016), yet despite this, the link between conflict, disability and access to education is under-examined.

The 'Disability Under Siege' Network Plus, has the overarching objective of providing the intellectual, financial and logistical resources required by local practitioners to deliver a transformational step change in education provision for children with disabilities in conflict affected states. By achieving this, the project will challenge the status quo that currently results in the majority of children with disabilities in conflict affected LMICs never attending school, and will significantly improve education provision for those that do receive education.

In order to maximize the impact of this Network Plus the project will focus on one specific region: The Middle East, and specifically the countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza Strip). This region has been chosen as the following factors make it an excellent location to deliver improved outcomes for those with disabilities: i) there is significant under-reporting of disability, in part due to societal stigma, and in part due to dominant narrow medical models of disability; ii) there are high rates of conflict-related disability in all three locations, with refugee flows from the wider region (Syria and Iraq) creating an additional burden; iii) the locations have a large youth population; iv) 95% of children with disabilities are excluded from primary school (HRW, 2016); v) There is an effective, but under resourced, network of local partners who are able to effectively engage with the opportunities offered by the Network plus.

In order to truly understand and make progress against this challenge, a cross disciplinary approach is necessary. How disability is understood in the various domains of health sciences, law, religion and culture underpins education policy and practice as well as the prioritisation and allocation of resources. Furthermore, the role of arts and humanities have a significant potential for shaping public knowledge on disability, for example, the 1970s Disability Arts movement in the UK, contributed substantively to the culmination of 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. Consequently, the project team comprises of researchers from a range of disciplines, based in both the Global North and Global South, all with a shared commitment to transforming education provision for some of the most vulnerable populations in fragile and conflict affected states.

Planned Impact

The Disability under Siege programme has been developed collaboratively with partners and stakeholders from the Middle East, specifically in Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank. This spirit of co-production coupled with a commitment to multidisciplinarity maximises the potential of the programme to deliver meaningful impact in the focus countries and beyond.

The main impact goals of the Network Plus are:
i) Re-shaping public understanding of disability in contexts of conflict and crisis;
ii) Supporting research and evidence building to change public policies ad practices regarding disability inclusion in education;
iii) Enhancing local, regional and international capacity to address issues of access, quality and participation in education for those with disabilities in formal and non-formal educational settings;
iv) Legacy-building through the coordination and integration of outputs from the programme and scaling/transferring findings to other relevant global contexts.

It is envisaged that the reach and scalable impacts of this initiative will extend to other conflict-affected regions of the developing world in the longer term.

The key intended beneficiaries are children with disabilities and their families, as they will experience improved social and economic prospects as a result of inclusive education provision. Other stakeholders with whom the Network Plus team is already engaged include:

i) Non-governmental actors and disability groups including Action on Armed Violence (London), Qattan Foundation (Ramallah), Legal Agenda (Beirut), the Special Kids Clinic at AUB Medical Center (Beirut) and a supporting parent-led network, and EMPHNET (East Mediterranean Public Health Network) based in Jordan. The Palestinian General Union of People with Disability and the Community-Based Rehabilitation Network operating in 250 locales across Palestine are also closely linked with the programme through existing relationships with Birzeit University.
ii) Educational partners, most notably Edraak, Queen Rania Foundation.
iii) Cultural partners, including Ashkal Alwan (Beirut), and the Palestine Museum (Palestine).
iv) Government partners such as Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Jordan), Humanity and Inclusion, Ministry of Education and Higher Education (Lebanon), and the Health Department within the Palestinian Ministry of Education (alumni links) are also engaged with the Network Plus.
v) International Organisations including UNESCO, UNRWA, UNHCR which are already active in the area of disability and education in the region.

Our Theory of Change (see Pathways to Impact document) contains mechanisms for continual engagement and testing of insights with local stakeholders on an equitable and mutually beneficial footing.

Impact will be realised in a range of fora, including practice based outputs that will improve the ability of education providers to deliver their services. Specific outputs will include training courses (Distance learning/ MOOCs), technological innovations, co-developing new curricula, pedagogical practices in formal and non-formal educational settings and creating school-school and school-community partnerships. The project will also facilitate co-development of national and school databases on inclusion, and co-development of a classification system of Disability based on the Washington Group (WG) questions and the WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).


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