Developing Indicators for Measuring Inclusive Education in the Pacific Islands
International principles that endorse the rights of all children, including those with disabilities, to access mainstream schools have been endorsed by ministers responsible for disability and education in the Pacific Islands. The Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2009) emphasises that less than 10% of children with disabilities in the Pacific Islands have access to any form of education. Thus, 90% of children with disabilities are out of school.
All countries in the Pacific Islands Forum are committed to disability-inclusive education, but this is not yet prioritised in practical ways. Implementation occurs in an ad hoc manner and varies greatly between countries. In October 2011, Directors of Education from all 14 Pacific countries agreed to record data across the Pacific region by working to create an Education Management Information System (EMIS) that would include significant questions and data regarding children with disabilities (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2011). The Pacific Islands Forum Education Ministers’ Meeting in May 2012 further endorsed upgrading the EMIS and including indicators on children with disabilities (Pacific Disability Forum and Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2012).
The rationale for the project was, therefore, to work collaboratively with the Pacific Islands countries to develop a set of contextually-appropriate indicators to enable them to effectively measure disability-inclusive education.
The aim of the policy was to support the implementation of disability-inclusive education in the Pacific Islands and, specifically, to work collaboratively with local and international partners. The goal is to develop a contextually-appropriate and regionally-relevant resource designed to support Pacific Island countries in developing disability-inclusive education.
Indicators and guidelines were to be developed to ensure three strategic objectives of access, quality, and effectiveness and efficiency to align with the Pacific Education Development Framework (PEDF).
A three-year project was funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It developed the Pacific Indicators for Disability-Inclusive Education (Pacific-INDIE). Partners included the following:
- Monash University;
- the CBM-Nossal Institute Partnership for Disability-Inclusive Development (University of Melbourne)
- the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
- the Pacific Disability Forum.
Organisations of people with disabilities from each of the four participating countries also worked closely with us throughout the project and shared their views about the critical local issues that the project needed to address/consider.
The project spanned three years, from 2013 to 2016, and took a three-phase approach. The project concluded with the development and launch of the Pacific Indicators for Disability-Inclusive Education (Pacific-INDIE). In each phase, a number of small research studies were conducted to inform the development of the indicators.
The project was undertaken in three phases.
Phase one involved four activities:
- systematic literature reviews;
- surveys of ministerial representatives from 14 countries;
- focus group interviews with parents, teachers and members of organisations of people with disabilities;
- documentary analysis.
Key findings from these activities were meta-analysed to develop the first draft set of inclusive education indicators.
Phase two involved refining indicators based on two areas of activity:
a. consultations held during a five-day regional workshop in Fiji with the following participants:
- members from ministries in the four countries;
- parents of children with disabilities;
- representatives from organisations of people with disabilities;
- non-government education providers;
- senior staff from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Pacific Disability Forum;
- the entire research team from Australia and the four case countries
b. a review of the Pacific-INDIE by an international panel of experts, including the key stakeholders from the Pacific.
Phase three involved development of the guidelines for implementing the indicators and pilot-testing of indicators in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. It also undertook a sub study in Fiji to test the use of the EMIS to report data on children and young people with disabilities.
The indicators were collaboratively developed through extensive consultations with Pacific Island stakeholders who support inclusive education policies at local and regional levels. The final set of 48 indicators across 10 dimensions were disseminated through local publications and the Pacific-INDIE Guidelines. Twelve critical indicators across the 10 domains for measuring disability-inclusive education in the Pacific Island countries were identified for all countries to monitor (refer to Table 1). In addition, countries were encouraged to select other indicators from the Guidelines that were relevant to them.
Table 1. Twelve critical indicators across the 10 domains for measuring disability-inclusive education in the Pacific Island countries
Domain and Critical Indicators:
1. Policy and legislation
1.1. Existence of legislation and/or policy that clearly articulates the right to appropriate education for all children with disabilities.
1.2. Percentage of education budget spent on implementation of disability-inclusive education plan at the local level.
2. Awareness of the rights of children with disabilities
2.1. Number of community awareness programmes focused on out-of-school children with disabilities.
3. Education, training and professional development
3.1. Teacher-training curriculum includes a mandatory course on disability-inclusive education.
4. Presence and achievement
4.1. Number of mainstream schools enrolling children with disabilities.
4.2. Number of children with disabilities completing primary school.
5. Physical environment and transport
5.1. Percentage of schools (primary, lower- and upper-secondary) with adapted infrastructure and materials for learners with disabilities.
6.1. Education Management Information System (EMIS) records data on children with disabilities.
7. Early intervention and services
7.1. Number of children with disabilities who are provided with relevant assistive devices and technologies.
8. Collaboration, shared responsibility and self-advocacy
8.1. Formal processes are established to systematically involve parents of children with disabilities in educational programmes.
9. Curriculum and assessment practices
9.2. Number of children with disabilities who sit exams with reasonable accommodations.
10. Transition pathways
10.1. Number of children with disabilities graduating at an age-appropriate level and transitioning from primary to secondary school.
The most significant outcome of the project is the development of the Pacific Indicators for Disability Inclusive Education (Pacific-INDIE), which is owned by the people of the region. The development of the Pacific-INDIE offers decision-makers in the Pacific Island countries a valuable tool for undertaking appropriate data collection that will inform policy development work and enable them to monitor progress towards disability-inclusive education. In addition, data collected by the Pacific-INDIE can feed back into reporting required by international conventions, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These culturally-relevant indicators will assist countries to evaluate their progress towards disability-inclusive education and to develop further plans and targets for providing quality education for children with disabilities. This is in line with other Pacific regional processes for improving the measurement of the Pacific Education Development Framework.
The Pacific-INDIE project demonstrated that it was critical to involve Pacific stakeholders for the successful implementation of disability-inclusive education. Carers, families, local communities, educators and religious organisations play a crucial role in the successful implementation of disability-inclusive education in the Pacific.
Throughout the collaborative process, there were, however, many challenges for the local research investigators. These included:
- difficulties with physical access;
- inconsistent email access;
- communication in setting up interviews;
- participants not arriving even when pre-arranged;
- time management (late arrivals);
- transcribing of interviews (limited personnel);
- requirement to provide snacks (no funding available);
- participants not being aware of the questions;
- difficulty in getting participants;
- timing in October proving difficult (due to examination time);
- getting questionnaires completed;
- obtaining required data;
- competing with other researchers;
- unsure line of communication;
- working as teams.
Initial and on-going training is essential for teachers to be able to include learners with disabilities in mainstream classes. Teachers are currently poorly trained in disability-inclusive education. They lack understanding of the concept, have no prior knowledge of inclusive practices and require training in appropriate pedagogies and curriculum modification to become effective.
Disability-inclusive education must specifically be seen as an evolving concept with diversity and democracy issues being increasingly important. This will require the integration of data from a variety of sources, including those that capture the experiences of all learners and their families in addition to data collected by the Pacific-INDIE. Developing comprehensive data collection methods requires a long-term commitment from decision-makers. Education and other government ministries and whole communities will need to work together to ensure equality of access for children with disabilities. While the Pacific-INDIE is seen as a very useful tool, schools will require support and training to implement it. Indicators are important but must be directed by government to ensure commitment by all schools.
Outcomes from the process identified the following critical issues that policy-makers and practitioners need to consider when implementing disability-inclusive education:
- a consistent definition of disability to allow effective monitoring of the education of children with disabilities;
- a process for identifying children with disabilities to ensure they receive the support they need to be included at schools;
- collaboration among key stakeholders;
- a training programme, offered to all teachers, to prepare them for providing quality learning environments for children with disabilities;
- on-going training using Pacific-INDIE in identifying priorities and addressing identified goals;
- training of key stakeholders, including relevant ministry officials;
Integration of the Pacific-INDIE in the regional framework on inclusive education is likely to be acceptable to the relevant ministries and will significantly improve access to high-quality education for children and young people with disabilities.
Upgrading the EMIS by disaggregating existing data will be necessary. Including specific indicators on children with disabilities will also be essential for monitoring progress through the collection of valid and reliable information. Countries are working towards this. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat carefully reviewed the Pacific-INDIE document. It then developed the Pacific Regional Inclusive Education Framework, which will guide implementation of inclusive education reforms across the region.
Professor Umesh Sharma, Ph.D., MAPS
Academic Head (Educational Psychology and Inclusive Education)
Faculty of Education
19 Ancora Imparo Way
Victoria 3800, Australia