Exploring the contexts of early childhood education for children with disabilities in Chiradzulu “Tiphunzile”- “Let us learn”

This study is addressing the issue of access to early childhood education (ECE) for children with disabilities in Malawi. The main aim is to provide evidence of how children with disabilities (aged 3-7 years) are being supported in their transition to pre-primary and primary education in a rural district in Southern Malawi. Using qualitative methods (case studies), we will show the different pathways that children with disabilities take into pre and formal schooling (e.g. both within mainstream and special schools). Drawing on the bio-ecological systems theory and a trans-disciplinary model of community based rehabilitation (CBR), we will document how children’s environments are shaping the way, diagnosis, care and learning are organised for children with disabilities. We will also identify the different influences that affect children’s learning opportunities within different learning settings including child-based community centres (CBCCs) and primary schools across the district.

Main research question

What are the factors that influence access of children with disabilities to early education provision in Chiradzulu district?

Specific objectives

  1. To understand what factors influence the participation and inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood education.
  2. To investigate the different influences that affect children’s learning opportunities in community based child centres and primary schools.
  3. To identify examples of good practice that have led to better the access, transition and retention of children with disabilities into CBCC and primary education.
  4. To determine local trans-disciplinary team systems that can support children’s transition into formal education.

PI and Co-Is - International Collaborators

Principal Investigator  (UK)

Dr Paul Lynch is a Senior Lecturer in early childhood development and inclusive education in the School of Education, University of Glasgow.

Co-Principal investigator (Malawi)

Dr. Emmie Mbale (MBBS,MSc,FCPeds), Consultant Paediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Malawi


Key Malawi Partners/ co-investigators/ Collaborators (with contact details):

Co-Investigators (Malawi)

Dr Khama Chibwana (co-investigator), Lecturer in Early Childhood Development and Education and Head of Human Ecology Development and Education, Chancellor College, University of Malawi.

Mrs Jenipher Mbukwa Ngwira (co-investigator). Head of Special Needs Department, Chancellor College.


Co-Investigator (UK)

Dr Anita Soni is an early childhood and education psychologist and tutors on the educational psychology doctorate programme in the Department of Disability, Inclusion, Special Needs (DISN), University of Birmingham

Research Fellow (UK)

Dr Marisol Reyes Soto is a Research Fellow in the Department of Disability, Inclusion and Special Needs, University of Birmingham.

Start and End date

November 2019 - July 2022

Funder and Funding amount

British Academy



Project News

We will produce a compendium of multiple case studies which capture the different influences that enable inclusion and participation as well as that cause risk to these children. These studies will focus on positive educational and health practices for both the children and their families.  We will also analyse the key factors that enable the participation and inclusion of these children within these cases to through further indpeth interviews and observations.We will also produce a set of guidelines on how to support the inclusion and participation of children with disabilities which will be helpful for early childhood development (ECD) training programmes at Chancellor College and the Catholic University as well as  for Child Health programmes at the College of Medicine.