The challenge of providing education for all children – insights from Malawi

Thursday, November 30, 2023

By Edward Winter, Senior Technical Advisor for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion at World Vision US

I am currently in Malawi supporting the start up for a new programme that will take an individualised approach to meeting the needs of children with disabilities. We will leverage World Vision’s extensive partnerships with health, education, child protection, faith-based organisations and NGOs in communities around the country to identify children with disabilities and meet their needs. Once a child has been identified as having a disability, community members will use an application to ask questions that provide an understanding of their needs. The App uses a draft of the Washington Group’s inclusive education model. For children who go to school, it assesses barriers within the school environment. For those not attending school or attending irregularly, it assesses the barriers to school attendance. The programme aims to support 4,300 children over the next two years.

We know that it will be challenging to support children to access quality education. This was highlighted for us by four children with different disabilities who are currently in school. Most children with disabilities are not in school. We asked each of them four questions:

  1. What would you like to tell others about who you are and what you like to do?
  2. What are your dreams for the future?
  3. What is your message for the government of Malawi?
  4. What is your message for World Vision staff?

Please take the time to hear from Emily, Falida, Mable and Steve. (NOTE: Each video lasts around one minute).

All of them mention education as a priority for them in achieving their dreams. They all highlight the challenges they face in accessing education. 

Our holistic approach to meeting children’s needs can address issues highlighted by Mable, Emily and Steve. We will partner with service providers who can support Emily and Steve to enhance their vision and mobility. We will work with schools to make their infrastructure more accessible for them. We will work with community members to see how they can support Mable.   

Falida’s situation is more challenging. The Malawian sign language dictionary only includes 500 words so most persons who are deaf or have significant hearing impairments don’t use a standard sign language. Teacher training colleges do teach some sign language but don’t engage persons who use sign language as their primary language in that instruction. As a result, it is almost impossible to find teachers who can communicate effectively in sign language in community schools. Teachers at the Mountainview school for the deaf develop their language skills by learning from the children. This leaves children and parents with the choice of attending a special boarding school (if they can afford the fees) or staying in a community school where they struggle to learn. We have already worked with MANAD to develop learning materials in sign language and to explore how technology can enhance learning for children who are deaf or have severe hearing impairments. Within the programme, we will continue to work with MANAD to identify ways we can provide real choice for children and their families.

Our work to support children with disabilities to achieve their learning goals is made more difficult by a challenging learning environment in Malawian schools. Large class sizes mean that it is difficult for teachers to use universal design for learning (UDL) principles or provide children with differentiated instruction. We will continue to partner with government to enhance learning in school settings using our MEQA tool (Unlock Literacy Class Lessons — World Vision MEQA ( that incorporates data on inclusive education on pages 7 and 8 of the PowerBI display. MEQA is an application that supports coaching of teachers to integrate UDL principles and to meet the needs of learners with special needs. We will continue to supply accessible digital and print learning materials using lessons learned from All Children Reading  through the Bloom Library Digital App.

We will also be harnessing the strength of parents and caregivers and communities to support learning outside of school. Community reading clubs provide interactive learning opportunities and parental engagement sessions show parents how to help their children to learn. We will also test a personal learning plan approach. Children will identify two or three learning goals. Some may be related to traditional school-based learning, but they will also include social goals such as building friendships or physical goals such learning to ride a bicycle. The approach then brings the child, their parents or caregivers, teachers, and supportive community members together to identify actions that will support each child to meet their goals. The approach puts the child in charge of their learning.

We are confident that our child-focused holistic approach will empower children and their caregivers to identify and access the education children with disabilities need to fulfill their dreams. The data and lessons we generate will be used to adjust our programming and to advocate for changes within the education system. We are excited to apply the lessons we learn to our education programming globally


Edward Winter is the Senior Technical Advisor for Social Inclusion at WVUS and the co-chair of the disability inclusion leadership team. He supports countries around the world to integrate disability inclusion into their work. He taught in Nigeria, Eritrea and the UK and then worked in development for the last 25 years

Other Resources that may be of use:

1) Unlock Literacy Approach for 6-9 year olds

2) Catch Up Programme

3) Measuring Evidence of Quality Achieved (MEQA)