In view of the principle underlying SDG 4 of leaving no child behind (inclusion) in learning and in keeping with Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and General Comment 4 of the CRPD Committee, UNESCO and UNICEF are working jointly on an innovative digital initiative called the Accessible Digital Textbooks (ADT) for learners with and without disabilities in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. The initiative being funded by the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) aims to address one of the key barriers to inclusive education resulting from the inaccessibility of core learning materials by using assistive technology and accessible formats in the creation of learning materials for all learners, including those with impairments.
On 6 April 2022 UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa and UNICEF Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, hosted a virtual regional knowledge exchange workshop to share lessons on the multi-country ADT project implemented in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda in the period 2019-2022 . The purpose of the event was to share and gather lessons from key stakeholders involved in the ADT project across the three countries.
While giving his opening remarks at the virtual workshop, Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa, said: “Availability of education technology does not automatically translate to access and students with disabilities have additional obstacles to overcome. We have the opportunity and obligation to come up with tools supportive of learning inside and outside the classroom for all learners including those with disabilities”
For his part, Mr. Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said: “According to a recent report by UNICEF, an estimated 240 million children under the age of 18 are living with disability around the world. Children with disabilities have historically been, and continue to be marginalized, underprivileged, and face multiple barriers and challenges related to education. ”
While giving her remarks Dr. Ola Abu Alghaib, Head of the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) Multi-Partner Trust Fund Technical Secretariat cautioned that: “Countries need to take further steps to translate the CRPD commitments on paper into practical steps to bring about real change. The ADT program is one of the multi-country initiatives funded by UNPRPD through the Multi-Partner Trust Fund to contribute to that change. ”
Discussions during the workshop were organized around the seven critical strategies to achieve sustainable change in the ADT ecosystem: Partnership and engagement; Evidence and use; Innovations; Knowledge sharing; Advocacy; Policy development and implementation; and Capacity development. Key achievements of the ADT project were also highlighted: establishment of active steering committees in the three countries, capacity building for teachers on application of assistive technologies and use of accessible digital textbooks; piloting of developed ADTs in schools, ADTs produced, tested and validated with children with disabilities in all 3 countries; ADTs available to children on the Kenya Education Cloud, REB platform Rwanda and Kolibri platform (Uganda); ICT equipment procurement guidelines for OPDs and key government stakeholders developed.
The event brought together: government representatives; curriculum & inclusive education specialists; Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs); technology specialists; publishers; and international experts. The lessons shared in the workshop will be published in a case study report together with findings from a series of interviews with key stakeholders conducted earlier in February 2022.