Making educational research count for children with disabilities in Malawi, Kenya and Uganda

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Education


This project aims to address the exclusion of disabled children in Africa from quality education. It will do so by establishing a wide network of partners from a variety of sectors including UK and African universities, NGOs, educational managers and coordinators, practitioners and government staff in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

Foremost, the project will build on the current collaborations between the University of Birmingham, the University of Cambridge, the International NGO Sightsavers and specialist education communities in the three target countries, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

The project will draw on existing primary research to address a number of issues around the current educational support available for children with visual impairment, focusing on Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the capacity of our local partners allowing them to set their own research agendas and inform the development of effective education systems. In order to successfully target this implementation gap, the key aspects to be addressed are:

- Insufficient measures to implement research findings designed to develop new practices in the classroom;
- Lack of evidence available to local stakeholders, (including lack of information in an accessible or understandable format);
- Constraints posed by insufficient capacities of local actors to interpret research findings and their transferability;
- Challenges posed by the isolation from a wider academic community involved in education research.

The above points will be addressed with reference to existing research in a series of eight interactive work packages involving all stakeholders, ensuring a reciprocal flow of knowledge between all parties.

The key output will be to establish an innovative online community which will enable the free flow of information in the form of webinars, podcasts, topical forum discussion, the submission of publications and blog posts. Stakeholders will be encouraged to continue to contribute to this community after the initial 12-month period, establishing a space where ongoing future research can be discussed and developed. The intention is that the research outputs from this international online community will influence policy in the area of the education of children and young people with visual impairment and across a broader disability agenda in Africa.

Planned Impact

Our goal is to make a difference to the lives of children and young people with disabilities in the East, Central and Southern Region of Africa. We will do this by working closely with practitioners and stakeholders who have direct and indirect contact with children with disabilities in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda. Sightsavers has a strong mandate to develop and sustain 'demonstration' projects with a view to modelling good practice in educational provision for children with visual impairment. Research into role of the itinerant teachers has identified the important role specialist teachers have in sensitising communities and identifying children with visual impairment for clinical assessments and corrective treatment over the past 30 years in the region (Lynch et al., 2011a, 2011b). There are, however, questions about the level of impact they have on supporting the educational inclusion of children with severe visual loss and blindness and to what extent they can make a difference to these children's lives at school. Governments are becoming more aware of the costs of maintaining this cadre when there are other important agendas where there is a need for increased spending (e.g. education of other marginalised groups, girl education, etc.) With the introduction of new policy on special education and inclusive education and recent discussions about Post-2015 MDGs, this is an excellent opportunity to use the Knowledge Exchange Opportunity to share some of the changes in practice since the research was conducted and to be able to learn about experiences within their own country and, more broadly, in the region.

This project aligns with two of ESRC's strategic priorities: Management, Health and Wellbeing and Social Diversity and Population Dynamics as well as its delivery plan by 'ensuring researchers have the necessary skills, methods, data and opportunities to collaborate internationally' and for two UK universities 'to play a significant role in international collaborative responses to global issues'. It therefore has the potential to make measurable difference in practice particularly as we are targeting beneficiaries who are often excluded from dissemination to improve their knowledge and understanding of research conducted in the three countries.

We plan to build the capacity of in-country researchers' skills and their expertise in the area of education, disability and development at the three targeted institutions as well as address ways to meet the needs of those stakeholders (e.g. those working in non-government organisations) to implement changes in their own working practices. We also plan to address those areas of enquiry that are important to our 'user-groups' and create activities that are in line with their expectations as well as meet Sightsavers' new strategy to expand its mission to serve children with other disabilities as well as its core target group of children with visual impairment across all countries where it plans to set up new programmes or restructure existing ones.

Furthermore, we wish to make sure that this collaborative process will influence the way practitioners support children with disabilities in the medium to long term. This knowledge exchange opportunity will seek to find ways of encouraging the cross-fertilisation of ideas between the research community and end-users at country and regional level.

It is our strong intention to encourage the participants to share their own practices with their peers through the online portal and to encourage them to reflect on their practice in light of the evidence from the different research shared with them, the organised working groups and online discussions will lead to a body of new knowledge that will enable participants to plan their own research in their own locations. We will post practitioner and academic publications onto the portal for ongoing discussion and research planning after this project has ended.


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Description Almost a year after the completion of the project, team members from the three countries continue to engage using Facebook. I'm delighted to announce that Sightsavers, our main partner has set up two new five year education project supporting children with disabilities: one in Kenya and one in Uganda. Both projects started in January 2016 and will address some of the issue identified during the research project; specifically, assessment of disabilities and pilot inclusive education schools. We are pleased to report that the participants from the two teacher training colleges (Kenya Institute of Special Education and Kyambogo University) are involved in the projects. One member from the Malawi team, Thomas Kanjodo, Sightsavers and a member from the Uganda team, Dr Lawrence Eron, Kyambogo University, presented a conference paper at the largest gathering of blindness advocates, leaders and educators takes place in Uganda in October 2015 (Africa Forum 2015). The paper reflect on some of their own experiences of organizing and leading small working of people from the government and NGO sector to discuss, critique and apply different approaches, methods and ethical issues from a set of newly developed work packages that each of the three countries had been engaging in and critiquing.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Establishing a dialogue on disability for higher impact 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The main outcomes from the two-day workshop were:
- A shared knowledge of 'impact' and the potential of the collective
- Emergence of common overarching themes being addressed across the projects - useful for engaging policy makers and others.
- Greater appreciation of how working together can communicate shared objectives, concepts, methods and evidence base to a larger group of stakeholders internationally and nationally.
- Familiarity with selected tools of dissemination and their potential (and challenges) in helping communicate effectively with a wider audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Impact Initiative Research Scoping Day on Child Poverty 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This one day conference enabled Dr Anita Soni and Dr Paul Lynch to attend and present at a conference on child poverty. The main audience comprised representatives from UNICEF, Save the Children and IDS, Sussex University. The organizing group at Impact Initiative the is interested in developing links with our project and we will be presenting some of our findings at a Conference in Addis Ababa in October 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Lessons from a Decade's Research on Poverty: Innovation, Engagement and Impact, ESRC/DFID 10th Anniversary Conference, Pretoria 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The PI, Paul Lynch, Dr Foster Kholowa (Co-I) and Jenipher Mbukwa co-presented the project as part of a symposium on disability. The attendance comprised representatives from DFID, the ESRC and other third level institutions in the UK, USA and the Global South.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016