Building a Better Mousetrap: A Replicable Education Model for Students with Disabilities in Afghanistan

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The most recent survey conducted by Handicap International indicates that there are more than 200,000 children in Afghanistan living with permanent disability (physical, sensory and/or mental impairment),  And Save the Children documents that roughly 75% of these children do not receive any kind of formal education whatsoever. Ultimately, the lack of educational opportunities for children with disabilities in Afghanistan remains a key reason for their poverty and exclusion from wider community affairs. 
Education matters, both for the individual and for society as a whole - and well-trained teachers are key to the success of this formula.  The notion of well-trained teachers is especially important in developing and war-torn countries like Afghanistan, where education infrastructure is either under-developed and struggling, or non-existent. Simply building more schools fails to address the core issue of establishing a viable and sustainable infrastructure that is centered squarely on quality teacher development.
The effects of well-trained teachers on society-at-large is documented in a study from researchers at Columbia and Harvard Universities (2011), and explores the impact of instructors — high and low quality — on students’ lives after they leave school. The researchers analyzed 10 years of test data from more than 2.5 million students and then looked at their rate of teenage births, college attendance, and earnings. Other factors taken into account were parents’ income levels, retirement earnings, and the mother’s age at the child’s birth. Nearly 90% of the students in the initial group were matched to later- in-life tax data, allowing the researchers to follow them from their school years into adulthood.

 The study’s findings include:

 •            Having a well-trained teacher for a single grade increases by 0.5 percentage points a student’s probability of attending college by age 20. The institutions attended are also of higher-quality as measured by the earnings of previous graduates.

•            Students with well-trained instructors had “significantly higher earnings growth rates in their 20s.” Having a better teacher for a single grade increased a student’s earnings at age 28 by 1%.

•            Having well-trained teachers was associated with a lowered probability of teenage births for a student; this factor also improved the likelihood of the students living in higher-quality neighborhoods. 

 The data is clear – well-trained teachers have the ability to directly impact the development of a society at its roots, and this conclusion is even more meaningful to societies in conflict and transition, like Afghanistan. 

In an effort to better address the lack of trained teachers in Afghanistan, I have proposed development of The Exceptional Children’s Laboratory School.  Our laboratory school will be a living laboratory of K-12 student development in special education. The Exceptional Children’s Laboratory School will function as a setting for faculty research and where undergraduate and graduate students work together serving as assistants in the classes and as participant observers in the ongoing life of the classroom. The Exceptional Children’s Laboratory School will also serve as a model of education practice and as a fieldwork site developing best practices in the art of teaching students with disabilities in developing countries. We will engage in practices of teacher training, curriculum development, research, professional development, and educational experimentation for special education in Afghanistan, and we will act as a voice speaking for the improvement of learning for all children.

The Exceptional Children’s Laboratory School is committed to preparing teachers while delivering quality instructional programs for children in the classroom. Our laboratory school will be affiliated with a college or university based in Kabul for specific purposes that go beyond the scope of traditional public and private schooling institutions, and will reflect the diverse needs of the teaching professional and assist in improving the science and art of teaching.

Finally, considering the challenges present in Afghanistan, cost-effectiveness and ease of implementation remain primary in the success of establishing any education model and these principles are central to The Exceptional Children’s Laboratory School. Our teacher-mentoring model is fully-exportable to other provinces and there is currently no other institution, private or public, engaged in this kind of activity in Afghanistan or the region. In Afghanistan, individuals with disabilities have the potential to contribute to the development of their communities and the stability of their country and they deserve the opportunity to do so, and well-trained teachers are key to that success.

About the author


I have spent the past 25 years advocating on behalf of my disabled daughter to help her realize greater independence and a better quality of life; it has been a life-lesson for me and the most difficult thing I have ever done. Raising a child with disabilities is challenging enough…

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