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Identifying children with special learning needs: results from a study testing a toolkit to screen for functional disabilities

Thu, April 18, 11:45am to 1:15pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Seacliff B

Proposal

An estimated one billion people around the world have a disability, of whom 93 million (almost one in ten) are children (WHO 2011). Many low and middle-income contexts, even those with the political will to provide educational support to children with special learning needs, often lack sufficient processes and systems to do so. To help close this gap, FHI 360, along with a researcher from the University of Nottingham, tested a toolkit to screen for different types of functional disabilities.

Drawing on promising elements of established and experimental screening tools, our toolkit tested a range of abilities including vision, hearing, motor skills, language and numeracy skills, and important cognitive skills: memory, processing speed, and selective attention. The toolkit also offered several other modules, including a school observation protocol for tracking school infrastructure related to inclusion, such as the physical accommodations, and resources available to support children with disabilities, in order to provide a fuller picture of the support schools are equipped to provide learners with disabilities. Unlike many existing screening tools that rely on parent or self-reports, this toolkit emphasizes direct assessment of disabilities in the screening process.

The study examined the validity and reliability of the toolkit instruments in Ethiopian primary schools with inclusive education programs. Specifically, this study examined the concurrent validity, internal consistency, sensitivity, and test-retest reliability of the toolkit modules. The analysis provides insight into the accuracy and effectiveness of these modules, an extremely important line of inquiry given not only the importance of identifying children with disabilities but the risks inherent in misidentification for the well-being of children.

Based on learnings from the study, an updated toolkit will provide a valuable, open-source resource for school screenings in contexts where screening is not widely available. This will fill a critical need among educators, health practitioners and donors for high-quality, reliable data on disability prevalence and on the access to education and other social services on the part of the children with disabilities.

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