Gathering insight through art

Rachel Gondwe

Rachel Gondwe, Learning Impact and Quality Manager, talks about how creative arts helped us evaluate our project’s impact.

A student holding their painting

We worked on our Girls’ Education Challenge project in Kenya for seven years. The programme supported girls with disabilities in accessing quality education in mainstream schools. And we worked with local communities and governments to demonstrate the importance of inclusive education.

When it came time to evaluate the GEC project and assess our learnings, we wanted to make sure we accurately captured the experiences of girls with disabilities. And directly from their own perspectives. But we wanted to explore alternative ways of doing this beyond just interviews. So, we began exploring creative ways children could express themselves while providing this essential feedback. And that’s how our Creative Arts Project came about!

Why we chose a creative ask

The idea was that the girls would be able to express their experiences within the project through any art form they liked. But also have insightful discussions along the way. So, we decided on a creative activity and invited local reporters who could chat with the children. It was important to us that these were reporters with disabilities too, to help make the children feel more comfortable – but also act as great role models. To get a good range of insight, we selected a primary, secondary, and vocational school from each of the five sub-counties the GEC project had worked with in Kenya.

The schools were provided with a creative art pack with lots of resources. This included coloured pencils, pens, paint, paper and modelling clay. And we worked with head teachers and child-to-child club facilitators to explain the project’s aim. We really wanted the children to understand the goal of the art project and make it clear this was not a competition for the best art piece, but their views were important to us.

What art did we want them to make

To help inspire their creativity, we gave them a few suggestions about some of the messages they might want to express through their art:

  • What difference has inclusive education made to me?
  • What about school has made the biggest difference to me?
  • What do I want my friends at school to know about disability inclusion?
  • If I were president for the day, what would I change about education for children with disabilities?
  • What is still my biggest barrier to inclusive education?

And wow – what results we got! The children were really enthusiastic about taking part and getting creative. It was amazing to see the messages coming through in their art. As well as the wide range of creative expression. In the primary schools, we saw lots of pictures and models. At the same time, older children in secondary schools were keen to articulate their experiences through poetry, songs and drama.

Examples of artwork

How did the children find the experience

We found the local reporters worked really well too. Children were comfortable opening up to them about their experiences. The reporters got to hear about the challenges and barriers children with disabilities face at school. This will be crucial to their own advocacy work as well. And in turn, the children wanted to hear about the reporters’ stories and experiences. It was a great learning experience for both.

But it was the art pieces that really had a powerful impact. We showcased the art at a number of closing events where key government officials and education stakeholders were invited to come and hear about the project. Here stakeholders were able to hear first-hand from the children. This was also really empowering for the children – having the opportunity to have their voices heard.

What themes we found

Through the showcases, stakeholders got to learn about both the positive and negative experiences. It brought home the realities of the barriers children, especially girls with disabilities, have to go through to get an education. Some of the stories really did evoke deep emotion in the room. In fact, the showcases inspired stakeholders to commit to supporting the children and sustaining inclusive education in their sub-counties – an amazing result!

Looking at the art pieces, one of the things that came out strongly was the importance of social inclusion. It was clear through their artwork that it’s important for children to be able to go to school like everyone else. To make friends and to participate in school activities. In the older children, what also came through was a recognition of a shift in community attitudes too as a result of GEC. It seemed that attitudes had shifted from discrimination and exclusion to better support and inclusion.

The importance of accessibility

The importance of accessibility in the physical environment also came through in the art. Many of the children talked about the equipment that enables them to go to school and take part. These were things like wheelchairs and crutches, as well as technology that supports their learning, like braille and orbit readers. The arts project also highlighted other things like the benefits of accessible transport and toilets and ramps within schools.

The arts project wasn’t just good fun for the students but also for the teachers. The teachers got to learn about what meant the most to their students. And they were motivated to encourage more creative art in school as well.

The girls expressed themselves so well through their chosen art forms. And parents, teachers, project coordinators and stakeholders walked away with so much insight. It was a great way to close out the GEC project and gather that information through new means outside the usual interviews and focus groups. We certainly left with a lot more understanding and knowledge to help plan for the future!

Find out more about the GEC project and hear from some of the children first-hand through our Stories of Change report.

Experiences of inclusive education

Read our report on how our creative arts project allowed learners with disabilities to express themselves through art.

Read our report