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Advances in Research and Praxis in Special Education in Africa, Caribbean, and the Middle East

reviewed by Naomi Moland - February 22, 2013

coverTitle: Advances in Research and Praxis in Special Education in Africa, Caribbean, and the Middle East
Author(s): Kagendo Mutua & Cynthia Sunal Szymanski
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617357715, Pages: 246, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

As we near the 2015 target date for reaching Education For All (EFA), a goal that 164 countries pledged to achieve, scholars are examining how countries are interpreting and implementing this goal. The contributors to this edited volume stress that students with disabilities must be included in the All, and investigate the measures being taken to support these students. The authors see reasons for optimism, such as increasingly inclusive legislative policies, but argue that many countries have a long road ahead.


In Advances in Research and Praxis in Special Education in Africa, Caribbean, and the Middle East, the editors begin by asserting that students with disabilities often lack access to the cultural capital that could place them in socially desirable positions. They explain that such students access to cultural capital is limited by their own disabilities, and by attitudinal barriers in society. The book then delves into twelve case studies exploring the barriers students with disabilities face, and the challenges in creating inclusive education systems in which they can be successful. The case studies (Southern Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, the Caribbean, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) reveal many trends across the three geographical regions: Special Education legislation that is not well-implemented or enforced; lack of funding for Special Education; lack of qualified Special Education teachers; and cultural/social attitudes that are discriminatory towards people with disabilities.  

These barriers to quality Special Education services reflect a weak response to a significant issue across the countries considered. The authors explain that 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries, and that in such countries, only 2-3% of children with disabilities go to school (World Bank, 2009, cited in this volume). Children in poorer countries are more likely to have disabilities, due to the connections between health, poverty, and social services. The authors explain the cyclical relationship between disability and poverty; particularly in countries where children with disabilities are not educated, they are unable to become financially independent. Moreover, in cases of extreme poverty and malnutrition, parents may prioritize feeding non-disabled children, further disadvantaging children with disabilities. The authors of the Nigerian chapter explain that countries with high levels of corruption and political instability may also fail to dedicate resources to citizens with disabilities. While some of the countries in this book are clearly poorer than others, most mentioned how inadequate funding and lack of government will inhibits the development of Special Education programs.


One of the books threads examines where negative attitudes about people with disabilities come from. This discussion reveals an interestingand not uncommonambivalence about the influence of outsiders versus locals in determining educational practices. On the one hand, some authors claim that negative attitudes about students with disabilities were fomented by outside sources, such as colonialism and apartheid, and that traditional education better served students with disabilities. They argue that current beliefs about the economic purposes of education are influenced by colonial education, which aimed to create a productive labor force. When education systems are developed primarily with the goal of economic advancement, they explain, students with disabilities may not be considered worth the educational investment if they are deemed unlikely to contribute productively to society. In contrast, traditional education is presented as more holistic and better suited to incorporate individuals with disabilities into the community. On the other hand, however, the authors do not romanticize traditional society; in fact, they claim that traditional values about people with disabilities often constitute the greatest barriers to Special Education. Authors describe many beliefs, ranging from beliefs that people with disabilities cannot learn, to beliefs that they are cursed or sent as a punishment to their parents. Moreover, several chapters refer to positive influences from the West in modeling legislation and practices for educating students with disabilities.

This book would be strengthened by further exploring these tensions between foreign and local influences on Special Education. Scholars could examine how economically-motivated education, rather than education framed by a rights-based discourse, has also been furthered by national governments (Carnoy and Samoff, 1990), and by the international community in the era of globalization (Stromquist, 2002)and how this framing disadvantages students with disabilities. Also, many of the authors explanations of cultural attitudes were overly simplistic, as were their recommendations for changing such attitudes (e.g., there needs to be a change in cultural attitudes). If indeed cultural attitudes are the major barriers preventing many countries from developing more inclusive Special Education laws and practices, scholars should conduct more thorough empirical research: Where do these attitudes come from? How widespread are they? How are these attitudes reproduced via the media and other social institutions? What types of interventions could help to change these attitudes? Are some of the discriminatory cultural attitudes correlated to beliefs that certain disabilities are Western problems (a belief mentioned by the authors)? Further research could help countries to combine the best of local and global aspects to create the most effective Special Education awareness initiatives for each national setting.

In general, lack of empirical research is a weakness of this book. Out of the twelve case studies, only three include original empirical research. The rest are mostly general overviews of the state of Special Education in each country, often including literature reviews of previously conducted research. While these chapters provide important contextual information, they do not present current empirical data. As such, many of the chapters feel repetitive; most countries have issues with societal attitudes about Special Education, lack of funding, laws that are poorly enforced, poorly trained teachers, and so on. Of course these are common issues across these regions, but more empirical data would have helped to flesh out each countrys unique circumstances. An exception is the Caribbean chapter, which, in addition to providing overall context, presents specific data from surveys comparing teachers attitudes about Special Education across six Caribbean nations. The Botswana and Tanzania chapters rely on interviews and observations, but the remainder of the chapters is not empirical.

Nevertheless, these chapters present essential contextual information for future studies of Special Education in diverse settings. The epilogue accurately explains that problems of inclusion for students with disabilities are related to larger structural inequalities. As Mukuria writes, A true litmus test for any stable democratic government is reflected in how it cares for and protects its most vulnerable citizens (p. 71, this volume). The authors do an excellent job of convincing readers that the promises of Education For Allof bringing greater societal equality and economic benefitswill only be realized if societies truly educate all of their citizens, including students with disabilities.


Carnoy, M., & Samoff, J. (1990). Education and transition in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mukuria, G. (2012). Education for students with intellectual disabilities in Kenya: Challenges and Prospects. In K. Mutua, & C. S. Sunal (Eds.), Advances in Research and Practice in Special Education in Africa, Caribbean, and the Middle East.  Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Stromquist, N. (2002). Education in a globalized world: The connectivity of power, technology and knowledge. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 22, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17032, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 9:35:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Naomi Moland
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    NAOMI MOLAND is a doctoral candidate in International Education at New York University. She is also an adjunct professor at Eugene Lang College, The New School, where she teaches courses about global educational issues. Her research focuses on the international diffusion of multicultural education, and how conceptions of tolerance and diversity are understood and taught in different socio-historical contexts. She is currently finishing her dissertation on how the Nigerian version of Sesame Street is adapted into the Nigerian context, and how the program teaches about tolerance amidst ethno-religious tensions.
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