This blog was written by Ellen Chigwanda, Advocacy Advisor for Education with CARE USA, using CARE’s global programming evidence on girls’ education to multiply the impact of this work through learning exchange platforms and working with government partners. Prior to holding this position, Ellen was the Project Manager for CARE under IGATE – a Girls’ Education Challenge project being implemented in Zimbabwe through a consortium led by World Vision. She is a 2016 Echidna Global Scholars Programme (Girls’ Education) with Brookings Institution and a 2019 Obama Foundation Africa Leader.

This blog was originally published on the DFID Girls’ Education Challenge website on 4th November 2019.

The 2019 UKFIET conference, “Inclusive Education Systems: futures, fallacies and finance”, provided a platform for education leaders, researchers, policy makers and practitioners to discuss the concept – and the many “faces” – of inclusion. As the conference has now come and gone, I reflect briefly on the opportunities which the 2019 UKFIET presented for CARE’s education portfolio as well as the insights on how we might foster greater inclusion in our education effort more broadly.

As individuals involved in development, we are continuously seeking to understand what inclusion means in different contexts and how inclusion needs evolve through time, particularly when working with conflict-affected, highly mobile populations. Whether by sharing new approaches, combining successful methodologies or reviewing findings to question and refine existing practices, the conference and the parallel learning event held by the Girls’ Education Challenge proved to be fertile ground for exploring ways of addressing inclusion challenges.

The Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) is funded by UK Aid and is the world’s largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education, supporting up to 1.5 million marginalised girls with access to education and learning across 17 countries. It was launched in 2012 as part of the UK’s Department for International Development’s commitment to generate transformational change for the world’s most marginalised girls. The GEC evaluation framework creates a unique opportunity for partners to apply a combination of rigorous methodologies to explore the factors affecting learning outcomes and transition rates for girls through a period of nine years. The emerging evidence has led us to challenge marginalisation narratives, while allowing us to better understand the intersectionality of exclusion factors and how it evolves through time as girls move through adolescence.

We used the Washington Group Questions to collect standardised disaggregated data on disability in Somalia and we realised that mental health issues – anxiety and depression – emerged as the most commonly identified type of disability for adolescent girls, and powerful factors affecting learning and transition outcomes. Further exploration of the data has shown that these types of disability are particularly prevalent among pastoralist populations who lost their herds during the prolonged drought of 2016-2017, leading to displacement and further marginalisation of this historically excluded group. Findings from storytelling and risk-mapping exercises conducted with adolescent girls with disabilities indicated that disability may also be linked to cases of violence and abuse, including on the way to school. These findings reshaped our approach to disability and inclusion and made us and our partners realise the urgent need to address ‘hidden’ disabilities as well as the more visible, and often prioritised, physical disabilities.

As we build on the foundation laid by GEC and continue to work to expound on our definition and parameters of ‘exclusion’, the effects of climate crises also emerge as a powerful factor. Climate change, gender and displacement intersect to affect girls’ mental health as well as physical health and well-being. The combination of those factors has a powerful impact on learning outcomes and transition rates. Pastoralists and marginalised ethnic groups are being disproportionately affected by these factors. In some regions of Somalia, they represent a large proportion of the population – 50% or more of the total.

The magnitude of the issue highlights the importance of refining our interventions to become facilitators of integrated system responses, as opposed to simply providing targeted support to ‘include’ some sub-sections of the population. For instance, CARE received additional emergency response funding from GEC for water trucking and installation of water storage tanks to the worst affected schools in some SOMGEP sites in order to mitigate the effects of the 2016 drought as well as to protect project gains.

In Zimbabwe, CARE is addressing the underlying causes of drop out, irregular attendance and poor learning outcomes in drought prone regions by integrating climate change considerations into existing girls’ education work as part of a building climate resilient schools pilot project. Activities include the use of green technology (solar powered water facility) to meet the menstrual hygiene management needs for both teachers and students, to irrigate a nutrition garden which in turn supports school feeding and to facilitate learning on climate change as well as the development of skills for resilience such as citizenship, leadership and water governance among girls and boys.

What opportunities did UKFIET 2019 present for CARE’s work on inclusion?

Over the years, CARE has leveraged various local, regional, and international platforms – such as UKFIET – not only to share this growing evidence with various stakeholders and inform policy conversations at different levels, but to also learn from others and engage in reflective exchanges on lessons learnt and current best practices in the sector. Following the three-day conference, CARE and the GEC Fund Manager co-hosted a GEC Learning Event in order to share experiences, lessons learned and reflections among GEC recipients. The parallel event was organised around three themes:

  1. the links between non-cognitive skills development and the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills
  2. factors affecting acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills for different sub-groups of marginalised students including students with disabilities
  3. participatory monitoring and evaluation methods used by projects to capture teachers’ and students’ perspectives on change processes.

This event provided a rich opportunity for discussions of findings on inclusion as well as innovative practices to tackle complex issues. The presentations highlighted the complexity of ‘inclusion’ as a concept and the multiple layers of exclusion faced by adolescent girls including social norms, conflict, the impact of different types of disability, the disproportionate effects of climate change on marginalised populations, limited service provision in remote areas, marriage and pregnancy.

Participants also discussed the importance of developing girls’ agency and life skills as an integral part of educational solutions for inclusion – be it in formal education, distance learning or financial literacy trainings. Last but not least, the event provided a unique opportunity to explore how girl-led qualitative research is being used in fragile settings to allow practitioners to understand what impact looks like from a participant’s perspective – and what unintended consequences, positive and negative, are emerging through time. The discussions highlighted the transformative, sustainable power of girl-led monitoring – photo-voice, diaries, risk mapping – and led to questions on how to integrate such approaches more widely in rigorously evaluated programs such as the GEC-funded projects as well as the value of this methodology in helping projects to be more inclusive by surfacing and addressing the multiple inequalities that many of the girls themselves experience.

What next?

The UKFIET conference and the GEC learning event have further strengthened CARE’s commitment to contributing to thought leadership on the role and importance of ‘inclusion’ in our girls’ education work in several ways. Firstly, investing in drawing out, documenting and sharing lessons learnt on the hidden aspects of exclusion factors not only in Somalia but also through our work in Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Secondly, advocating for inclusion as a “non-negotiable lens” with which we approach CARE’s programming – from design to evaluation – in a more deliberate and purposive manner. Lastly, for CARE to be even more deliberate about using the evidence from our work to influence government and donor policies on inclusion – for instance, continue the work with World Vision and other partners to use the IGATE-T midline findings to inform the ongoing development of the Inclusive Education Policy by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Zimbabwe.

Building upon our learning of how climate change is threatening to keep girls out of school, as well as on findings highlighting the intersectionality of exclusion, we are also taking the ‘inclusion’ conversation to CIES 2020 – sharing the nexus between climate change, education and adolescent empowerment in Mali, Somalia and Zimbabwe – as well as to regional level discussions with governments and partners.

As the GEC community, I would like to encourage us to think about further steps:

  • Convene similar but targeted issue focused learning and exchange sessions in the future – as recommended by the participants at the CARE/GEC parallel event – taking note to involve other partners working on GEC projects in different contexts as well as language considerations.
  • Explore how to refine sector plans across ministries to explore integrated and financially doable solutions that take into account inclusion, while considering its intersectional nature – working across partners such as NGOs, Disabled Persons Organisations and government decision-makers alike.
  • Generate and implement practical, context-responsive, cost-effective solutions to operationalise education sector plans, which will in turn address challenges of untrained teachers, unsafe and poorly resourced classrooms, and large class sizes that affect inclusive access and the ability for all to learn and thrive.