Skip to main content

Putting inclusion at the heart of education

Learning Differences Programme / Partner story

Image © Trevor Noah Foundation

In Aleksandrovka village, in the remote Chui Oblast region of the Kyrgyz Republic, a group of school children are working excitedly together. The students are of different ages, from grades 4 to 9. In this region of significant internal migration, these students are from different ethnic backgrounds. Yet they have been brought together around a common task – to select their own research questions and then collaborate to find the answers. 

Curiosity Minds and learning differences 
Aikanysh Zotova is the inspiring teacher behind this work, called ‘Curiosity Minds’, which encourages students to pursue their own interests in societally relevant contexts, thus nurturing a sense of ownership and agency within the group. Curiosity Minds aims to improve holistic learning outcomes for students. It has been made possible through Aikanysh’s involvement with the Schools2030 programme. Both Aikanysh and other teachers have noticed how the success of this project has led to progress in other areas, such as improved reading comprehension, knowledge retention, and self-confidence across all grade levels. 

“I had the coolest project ever this year!” says one student. “We learned by asking questions and trying things out. It helped me understand things better and think more carefully.” Curiosity Minds has also successfully involved students with learning differences. By creating a student-driven, nurturing learning environment, Aikanysh has empowered these students to actively participate and contribute to the project. This approach has boosted their self-confidence and helped improve their academic performance, for example in reading comprehension. 

Schools2030 is a key Oak partner leading the movement to promote inclusive education in 10 countries, from Afghanistan to Uganda. Check out the online version of this report to watch a video explaining more about what Schools2030 hopes to achieve. Schools2030 follows a three-step model, supporting teachers to: assess the needs of their students and the quality of their classrooms; innovate, by testing new approaches and learning environments; and showcase their learning and successes at local, national, and international levels. 

In its first three years, Schools2030 has amassed a wealth of data and insight. In 2023, it released its first comprehensive report analysing learning differences and inclusion across all 10 partner countries. This report[1] outlines how learning differences are conceptualised, understood, and supported at the school level in policy and practice in each geographical context. “The report provided an opportunity for us to learn from each other,” says Halima Shaaban, the national coordinator for Kenya. 

The report also describes how 98.9 per cent of children with special educational needs in Portugal are in mainstream schools, providing a thought-provoking model for other countries as they think about inclusive education. As one Lisbon-based teacher observed, “We shouldn’t have labels – they are children in school.” 

Inclusive education and leadership for South Africa’s young people 
In South Africa, more young people than ever are completing secondary school, but far more learners from high-income backgrounds go on to further education than those from less advantaged communities. This has led to the country having one of the highest levels of education inequality in the world.[2]

Aiming to improve the prospects of all learners is Teach the Nation, a member of Teach For All, a global network of partners developing collective leadership to ensure all children fulfil their potential. There are now 300 teacher leaders across the country who receive training and ongoing coaching to unlock the best in people. These teachers become powerful role models for their students by being continuous learners themselves. Teacher leader Honey shares her experience: “I work with 90 different personalities and mindsets across grades 10 to 12. My coach supports me professionally and personally. Teach the Nation taught me to be an active leader that takes on challenges and risks 

Nurturing confident leadership in teachers like Honey is vital to improving the quality of education – but inspiring future leaders is just as important. In his 2016 book Born a Crime, South African comedian, host, and humanitarian Trevor Noah reflected on why less advantaged children are missing out: “Kids of today are being told to be the leaders of tomorrow, but they’re not given the tools. We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” 

 The Trevor Noah Foundation aims to address this through its programmes, which ensure that young people are better prepared for further education and work. With support from the Learning Differences Programme, the foundation is ensuring that inclusion is a priority in two of its flagship programmes: 

• The Khulani Schools Programme, which gives young students equitable and inclusive access to quality education. 
• Education Changemakers, which empowers and trains young educators to transform their communities and become leaders. 

One Changemaker, Clerah Sethole, used the programme to launch ‘Exclusively Inclusive’, which supports teachers, parents, and communities to understand learning differences like dyslexia and ADHD. Her work is helping to dispel stigma, training teachers to identify young learners who need help and providing alternative teaching resources that will support them to thrive. “I love working with children and it breaks my heart to see a child struggling with something that they really want to learn,” Clerah told Daily Maverick. “I want to see every child enjoy going to school and having someone who understands them.” 

Big Bad Boo and “the most fun courtroom on the planet” 
Animated cartoons by Canadian production company Big Bad Boo are familiar on television and streaming platforms around the world. The studios also create educational programmes with not-for-profit organisations, using media to promote empathy, diversity, inclusion, and global mindedness. 

Oak has supported the creation of Judge Jodhi, a series featuring a 12-year-old girl with dyslexia who sets up a mock court to resolve neighbourhood disputes. The episodes focus on inclusion (including gender equality and learning differences), while teaching critical thinking skills. Thanks to a partnership with Glasswing International, educators are teaching the series and its curriculum in public schools in Guatemala 

Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme is supporting its global partners in their efforts to understand and advocate for more inclusive teaching methods that support diverse learners around the world. To this end, we support Schools2030, Trevor Noah Foundation, Teach For All, and Big Bad Boo. “We support work that rethinks the way that learning happens, and prepares adults to engage and support all students, particularly those with learning differences,” says Heather Graham, director of the Learning Differences Programme. “Ultimately, we want to influence wider systems to ensure classrooms are inclusive and engaging for all students.”  Read the Learning Differences Programme’s strategy paper or visit the website to find out more.

1. Amnesty International, Broken and Unequal: the State of Education in South Africa (2020) (Accessed 18-01-24) 
2. Schools 2030, Understanding Learning Differences Across Schools2030 Contexts (Accessed 18-01-24)