How listening can improve education for children with disabilities in Myanmar

IKEA co-workers will be visiting Save the Children’s programme in Myanmar. Read the blog below, written by Caroline Naw, Education Project Co-ordinator for Save the Children, Myanmar.


As a co-ordinator of our IKEA Foundation-supported project to improve access to learning for Myanmar’s most vulnerable and marginalised children, I believe listening is one of my most important jobs.

To understand how the inclusion of children with disabilities in school is perceived by parents, teachers and children themselves, we recently conducted focus group discussions with all three groups in two project townships, Pruso and Minbu.

According to the anecdotal evidence we collected, the impact of a child’s disability on their education depends largely on the severity of their disability. Children who have mild difficulties seeing, hearing, understanding or moving are, on the whole, accepted and their attendance at school is quite normal.

But for children with severe disabilities, the scenario is very different. They are mostly kept at home, away from school and away from their friends. And as if being deprived of an education isn’t enough, children with severe disabilities receive limited or no medical treatment. This is either because parents cannot afford it or because some parents don’t understand how medical treatment can help. Children with sensory or mobility difficulties don’t have access to equipment which can help them, which they would have if they’d been born in other places in the world.


Most parents reported that if they had a child with a disability, they’d want to send them to school. The fact that so few do shows us that something is wrong and needs addressing. The problem isn’t with the attitudes of the teachers. In fact, the teachers who we spoke to expressed a strong willingness to be able to teach children with disabilities in their classes. But none of them have attended any form of inclusive education training to give them the skills they need teach children with disabilities.

Listening to the teachers also tells me that a happy environment and a ‘happy teacher’ is key to ensuring a school is best prepared to include children with disabilities. Teachers at Htee Byar Ngay school told us they don’t have enough teaching resources to provide inclusive education along with all of their other responsibilities. At Daw To Ka Leh school, teachers told us that language difficulties experienced by both students and teachers are big challenges to overcome.

When teachers are under-resourced, or don’t feel supported and prepared for the challenges they already face every day, they will not feel positive about developing the skills for creating inclusive education classrooms.

Finally, we listened to the children themselves. It is so often the case that children are the most accepting of difference—and this was no different. They told us they would accept children with disabilities in their class and even reported a willingness to help those who are disadvantaged with their learning. Listening to these children made me think: should we consider peer tutoring when we plan for our school inclusion training? Perhaps children themselves are our most important resource?

To plan inclusive programming successfully, I believe you should first be inclusive in your programme design. The IKEA Foundation is helping people like me at Save the Children listen to the community to ensure we build the best programme to improve education outcomes for children with disabilities here in Myanmar.