What were the main aims of the initiative?

This brief presents information about a comprehensive project that was undertaken in Bangladesh by Plan International in partnership with the Directorate of Primary Education, under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education with the financial support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia. Associate Professor Umesh Sharma from Monash University, Australia, provided technical guidance and was mainly responsible for the professional development of the leadership team and the master trainers. The project was aimed at developing an efficient inclusive and equitable quality primary education implementation model that provides child friendly, relevant and high quality education to children aged 5–10 years. The key objectives of the project were to improve both access to and quality of education for children who are frequently excluded from enrolling in schools (e.g. children with a disability and those from impoverished families). It also targeted out-of school children in the local communities.


The enrolment of children with disabilities in primary education in Bangladesh is very low (less than one percent of the children with disabilities enrol in primary schools). In addition, there are other categories of children who are left out of the education system. These include children living in remote locations, children living in extreme poverty, children who work for small wages, and children from indigenous communities.

Bangladesh has drafted policies and legislation supporting the inclusion of these children into the mainstream school system. However, there are significant gaps in policy and practice. Plan International Bangladesh started a project with 50 schools spread across Bangladesh to support schools in implementing inclusive education. One of the key objectives of the programme was to empower local schools and communities with skills and resources to implement inclusive education. A secondary aim of the project was to create demonstration schools that could be used as training sites to showcase how inclusion can work in settings with limited resources. One of the cornerstones of the projects was professional learning of school educators about inclusive education through a train the trainer model.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The project was undertaken in five districts of Bangladesh (Hatibandha, Jaldhaka, Barguna Sadar, Kulaura and Dhaka City). The participants for the project included:

  • 45 District level resource team members,
  • 50 community resource teams,
  • 50 school management committees,
  • 50 head teachers, 277 teachers,
  • 300 parent groups,
  • 20,000 school-aged children,
  • 4,500 children in early years (3–5 years) and
  • 365 out-of school children.

The primary beneficiaries of the project were all children enrolled in the 50 schools that were participating in the project, rather than just those students who had a disability or were from poor socio-economic backgrounds.


What issues/challenges does the example address?

Many activities were undertaken that contributed towards successful outcomes in the project. However, for the purpose of the current proposal we will focus on the Continuing Professional Development of educators and leaders. A professional development programme was developed keeping a key principle in mind. This principle was that for successful implementation of inclusive education (IE), three things must change in teachers and leaders. These were head (knowledge and skills), heart (beliefs) and hands (actual classroom practice) (Sharma, 2011). A key focus of the professional training was to ensure that everyone believed that inclusive education was good for them and not just for the students (belief=heart).

A series of activities were undertaken to convince master trainers to believe that IE is good for all, including teachers, school leaders and school communities. We found that when educators start believing in an idea, it is relatively easy to teach about strategies to include everyone. It was made clear to the group that use of deficit language and a medical paradigm would not be of any use to change the school culture and practices. Participants learned about teaching strategies that would enhance the learning of all students (rather than just a small group of students). Some of the key concepts that were covered during the training included: peer tutoring, co-operative learning and reflective teaching. Data was collected using quantitative tools (Teaching Efficacy to implement Inclusive Practices (TEIP) (Sharma, Loreman & Forlin, 2011) and Sentiments, Attitudes and Concerns about Inclusive Education (SACIE) (Loreman, Earle, Sharma & Forlin, 2007) at different stages of the project. In general, a significant increase in teaching efficacy and attitude scores was noted from the pre-stage of the project (a detailed report is available on request).



How was the Initiative implemented?

The implementation process described here relates mainly to the Continuing Professional Development aspect of the project. Three professional development-training phases were planned and delivered during the project to master trainers. The sessions were spread over an 18-month period. Participants for the training included three cohorts: ministerial representatives directly responsible for implementation of IE in the selected districts; the Plan staff responsible for supporting the schools across five regions and those from the central office; and district level education officers.

The content of the programme was developed by Umesh Sharma in close consultation with the Plan office (Katherine Fell, Iqbal Hossain and Katie Ramsay) to ensure that the key objectives of the programme could be achieved and that the content was relevant in the Bangladesh context. Each training phase lasted for 3 to 5 days. The training was carried out in Dhaka city. It was clear from the inception of the project that for maximum impact of the programme there should be a gap of at least 6 months between the training programs. Participants were encouraged to identify any issues of concern during the implementation phase (after the first phase). The country level head (Iqbal Hossain) supported the master trainers in between the phases. He also made a note of all significant issues identified by the participants so that the issues could be addressed during the subsequent training phases. The main activities during the training phases address the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of inclusive education using the head, heart and hands framework. Participants worked in small co-operative groups and participated actively during the training sessions.


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

The outcomes and impact of the programme are evident both in qualitative comments made by participants, as well as quantitative change in teacher scores (teacher efficacy and attitudes). Teachers and school leaders reported a change in the pedagogical approaches used by educators in the project schools. For example, a regional coordinator from Barguna stated:

I have seen many changes among teachers. Teachers are more confident now. They are using different strategies in the classroom which they have learnt from the training.

Another regional co-ordinator from a different region said:

after receiving training they [teachers] understood that children with disability can equally participate in the classroom activities with all other children.

His comments were supported by another teacher in the same region who stated that:

Huge changes occurred in the teaching–learning process as a result of participating in training. In the past, I used to teach but could not evaluate every child. Now I am capable to teach even children with special needs. Children are enjoying and learning well now. At first I faced problems, but now there is no problem in using techniques such as Jigsaw, Four corner etc.

Yet another teacher said:

Our concept has been changed after receiving the training. Now I can teach all students with different abilities in the same classroom. Because now I use self-regulated learning, peer tutoring method, students feel comfortable and enjoy the friendly environment.

One head-teacher said:

After receiving the training teachers are now more confident to teach all students in an effective manner. As a result classroom participation has increased and positive change is visible in the school.

However, it is important to recognise that not all teachers changed their views about inclusion. For example, one head-teacher from Jaldhaka said:

It would be better if children with disabilities go to a separate special school. They will be there with other similar children, then it would be easier to teach them. Besides, it is better to have a special education teacher to deal with them.

It clearly shows the need to continue to support teachers with on-going professional development to identify issues that concern them and to address such issues.

Significant improvements in teacher efficacy and attitude scores were observed for participating teachers (who were trained by master trainers). Teaching efficacy scores were measured using a reliable and valid scale that measures teaching efficacy to teach in inclusive classrooms (Sharma, Loreman, & Forlin, 2011). The scale has been used widely across different country contexts, including Indonesia, India, China and Singapore. The scale uses a Likert type format with responses ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). A higher score on the scale is indicative that a teacher perceives a high sense of teaching efficacy to teach in inclusive classrooms. At the pre-stage of the project, participants’ composite mean score was 4.61, which improved to 5.03 at the post-stage of the project. Participants also completed an attitudinal scale, which measured three aspects of attitudes towards inclusion (sentiments, attitudes and concerns). This scale also used a Likert type scale format. The scores on the scale can range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree) (Loreman, Earle, Sharma & Forlin, 2007). This scale is also used widely across Asia, Africa and Latin American countries. Participants’ mean attitude scores increased significantly from 2.90 at pre-stage to 3.03 at post-stage of the project. The change in the attitude score was statistically significant but there is still some room for improvement.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The project evaluation was conducted under the leadership of Dr Tariq Ahsan from Dhaka University. The data reported above relating to teaching efficacy and attitudes as well as qualitative comments were gleaned from the report. The report ‘Ensuring Right to Education: an in-depth study to explore educationally excluded children’ is available on request. The report concluded that even though positive change has begun in participating schools, some challenges still remain. They include the apprehensive attitude of parents and community in some regions. Interestingly, educators in the main Dhaka city were comparatively less positive in their teaching efficacy beliefs and attitudes. It is possible that in rural areas teachers are well connected to their community and tend to be more accepting of new ideas.

These are early days for the project. However, we have learned a few key lessons. Firstly, schools will need to be continuously supported in their efforts to implement inclusive education through on-going professional development. Secondly, local non-government organisations need to be mobilised to work in partnership with schools. Thirdly, when parents and local communities ‘buy in’ to the idea of inclusive education, implementation of IE becomes easier and can be sustained. Fourthly, schools need to understand that inclusive education means first and foremost high quality education for all, rather than just enrolling some students who were excluded in the past. Lastly, support from the Ministry of Education and regional level education officers is critical for the success of the project.


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

Plan International and the relevant Ministry are committed to supporting the work already completed in the 50 schools. Recent cuts from funding agencies have affected the work to some extent. However, building teaching community commitment to implementing inclusive education from the inception of the project is likely to sustain the project activities. The majority of participating teachers now believe that inclusive education is good for them, not just for their students. This change has allowed teachers to work with local NGOs and local school communities to use local resources to address any barriers that they might face in implementing IE. Most significantly, the project was undertaken in partnership with the government agencies and it has allowed schools to be supported in their efforts to implement inclusive education when support from Plan International may not be available. Plan International continues to be committed to seek additional funds to build the capacities of schools to provide high quality education to all children.

The demonstrative model of Inclusive Education was rolled out in 50 schools, with complementary community engagement initiatives, such as parenting groups and improved health referral systems. This year the project has reached 24,369 direct beneficiaries and has improved education outcomes for 11,597 girls and 11,597 boys. A strong strategic partnership has been established with the Department of Primary and Mass Education, who centrally manage 64,000 primary schools nationwide and support over 400,000 teachers. The government has a strong commitment to the model of inclusion demonstrated by Plan International and has specifically asked for technical guidance in the fourth phase of their Education Reform Policy beginning in FY16 (Fiscal Year 2016). They have requested guidance from Plan International on designing innovative teacher training initiatives and practical inclusion implementation strategies. This partnership provides an important opportunity for project scale-up and increases the capacity for Plan International to reach a large number of beneficiaries. It is Plan International’s aim to work closely with the government to scale this model up to 700 schools in the coming two to three years.


What are the main learning points?

Some of the key lessons when developing professional development programmes that we have learned from the project are:

  1. The knowledge of local context and cultural issues is critical and must inform the content of the programme.
  2. Rather than focussing on just the what and how of inclusive education, participants must first be convinced about the why of inclusive education. The participants must believe that inclusive education is good before they can be introduced to any other concept.
  3. Any professional development programme must encourage participants to identify concerns about implementing IE in their schools and empower them to identify strategies that will work within their context.
  4. When teaching about strategies such as co-operative learning, participants need to be convinced that such a strategy, which originated in Western countries, could be used in large classes in developing countries (e.g. in Bangladesh). Some modifications may need to be made when using the strategy in the local context.
  5. Participants need to be encouraged to be self-critical and to learn from mistakes made in their classrooms. However, this needs to be done keeping the local socio-cultural values in mind.
  6. Partnership with relevant ministries of education is critical for the sustainability of the programme and also for enhancing the status of the training programme.
  7. Follow-up booster training sessions (around 6 months later) enhances the impact of previous training.
  8. On-going evaluation is useful to make changes to the training programme.
  9. Using participants to deliver some aspects of the training could be very impactful.
  10. Language used in the training should be non-technical.


Are there further information about supporting materials?

Some videos have been created to show the project activities and outcomes.





Sharma, U. 2011. Teaching in inclusive classrooms: Changing heart, head, and hands, Bangladesh Education Journal [P], 10(2), 7–18

Sharma, U., Loreman, T. & Forlin, C. 2011. Measuring teacher efficacy to implement inclusive practices. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs. Doi: 10.1111/j.1471-3802.2011.01200.x

Loreman, T., Earle, C., Sharma, U., & Forlin, C. 2007. The development of an instrument for measuring pre-service teachers’ sentiments, attitudes, and concerns about inclusive education. International Journal of Special Education, 22(2), 150–159


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Associate Professor Umesh Sharma

Phone: +61 3 99054388

Additional/alternative contact for further information

Ms Katherine Fell

Program Manager – Health, ECCD & Education, Plan – Australia National Office

Phone: +61 3 9672 3646

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