Over the last two decades, Senegal has made notable progress toward increasing the number of children who enroll in and complete primary school. Now, the government is pursuing nationwide reform to ensure the quality of classroom instruction is high and that it inspires families and communities to become more involved in helping children learn. USAID is supporting the Senegalese government’s efforts to boost early grade reading through Lecture Pour Tous, which began at the end of October 2016 and runs through July 10, 2021, aiming to improve reading levels for students in Grades 1, 2, and 3 through effective, sustainable, and scalable reforms. Part of Lecture Pour Tous’ mandate is to promote inclusive education in ways that help children with special needs or learning disabilities increase their reading skills, as part of “reading for all”. As part of its research agenda and amid the growing recognition of the importance of inclusive education, Lecture Pour Tous worked with the Ministry of Education to gather existing data on the incidence of disabilities among early grade learners that could impede the development of strong reading skills.
Research indicated that students both with disabilities and without disabilities benefit from inclusive education programs. For example, one study found that students without disabilities educated in inclusive classrooms made “more progress in reading and math than peers without disabilities who were not educated with classmates with disabilities” (Cole, Waldron, Maid, 2004). Simply stated, implementing inclusive education policies and practices will improve educational outcomes for all students.
Based on the results of an initial literature review, the study was expanded to include assessing the quality and consistency of the data identified. Focus group and key informant interviews conducted in Fatick, Kaolack, Dakar, and Thiès provided the research team insight into current identification, referral, and support practices for early grade learners with disabilities as well as the knowledge, attitude, and practices related to educating these students.
The study found that there is little quantitative data available on incidence of disability among children in Senegal and, as far as the research team could determine, no data about incidence of disability specifically among children in the early grades. In fact, the team could not find any study that disaggregated data by type of disability, grade, and age. Only three of the 14 studies provided definitions for the types of disabilities identified or the methodology or tool used for identification. Given that nearly every study used different terms to disaggregate data by disability and did not provide definitions or methodology, it is almost impossible to compare the data found to gain further insight. This dearth of data constitutes an impediment to education system actors and policymakers alike.
However, the study also found strong support for inclusive education from grassroots efforts all the way 2 up to the Ministry of Education. When channeled through a framework of international best practices, this support could help bring Senegal to the forefront of countries successfully transitioning to an inclusive education model. Since, per one study, 75% of people with disabilities surveyed are not literate, it is vitally important that Senegal implement inclusive education practices to ensure that children with disabilities not only enroll in school but thrive.
The study was authored by Rebecca Malinick (Lecture Pour Tous Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist) and Rokhaya Diop (Lecture Pour Tous Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist). The research team included Dr. Amadou Mactar Sy (Director of the research division at the Institut National d’Etude et d’Action pour le Développement de l’Education [INEADE]), Mr. Babacar Mbengue (sociologist at INEADE), Pape Demba Sy (coordinator of the DEE’s Bureau of Inclusive Education), Mr. Babacar Niang (DEE, Bureau of Inclusive Education), Dr. Saliou Ngom (Lecture Pour Tous Research Coordinator), Dr. Nancy Ndour (Inclusive Education Specialist), as well as Ms. Diop and Ms. Malinick. Anne Hayes, international expert on inclusive education and author of the USAID toolkit on Universal Design for Learning to Help All Children Read, served as special advisor to the study.