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Breaking barriers: Brazilian state adopts inclusive plan to overhaul education system

With support from Perkins, a state in Brazil is taking the lead in driving change for students with disabilities by implementing a plan that will impact thousands of students in the regular public school system.

Photo of a student and teacher in a colorful classroom working on an activity together.

Located in the north of Brazil, Tocantins is part of the states that compose the vital Amazon region. For the past four years, the Secretariat of Education of Tocantins (SEDUC) has worked with Perkins, and the recent launching of the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is an example of the impact of their partnership. This groundbreaking initiative provides a tremendous advantage to the entire state’s education system and all children within it.

In Brazil, students with visual impairment, multiple disabilities, and deafblindness are included in regular education. Through a partnership with Perkins, Tocantins’s government has been fostering and implementing best practices that cater to the diverse needs of children with disabilities and have the potential to promote a systemic transformation for all students within the state.

A photo of a young boy sitting on a  blue chair, wearing a red shirt and focused on a colorful building toy on the table in front of him.
Photo of a student from Tocantins educational system playing in the classroom.

What is the Individualized Educational Plan?

The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for children with disabilities is a document prepared by regular education teachers that considers the specific needs of students with disabilities. The plan ensures that a child with a disability attending school receives specialized instruction and related services.

This plan also includes families in their child’s education process, as family involvement is a fundamental part of a student’s development. The main objective of the IEP is to outline individualized and planned strategies for learning, thus promoting inclusion through quality education for students with disabilities.

Each student in inclusion will have an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) prepared by a teacher. The document consists of information that takes into account the student’s needs, strengths, and abilities. Additionally, the IEP includes reports and information provided by healthcare professionals to complement the student’s pedagogical practice.

It was through the leadership of Paola Regina Bruno Martins, who is the Director of Inclusive Education and Accessibility for Tocantins that the idea of institutionalizing the IEP in the whole state educational system emerged. Paola, is also Education Coordinator for Perkins for Brazil’s northern region and a Perkins International Academy (PIA) graduate. Drawing on her learnings and experience working with the Perkins project in Brazil, she used the model learned in the course and adapted it to her local reality. According to Paola, “The knowledge I acquired while taking PIA provided me with the tools to develop this document.”

Photo of Paola Regina smiling in front of a school.

Teachers will start seeing students with disabilities as capable individuals who can learn and develop, adopting individualized strategies and establishing a collaborative dialogue with families.”

Paola Regina Martins Bruno

Perkins International Academy Portfolio: João Pedro and Victor Gabriel’s case

Teachers who participate in the PIA courses work on a case study throughout the courses, drawing from real-life experiences. In 2019, educators from Beira Rio School, which is part of the Perkins project, developed a case study centered around João Pedro, a 19-year-old diagnosed with multiple disabilities.  The combination of the learnings from the PIA and federal educational guidelines motivated Paola to seek the institutionalization of the PEI to be incorporated in all schools in her state. 

A photo of student João Pedro in the classroom, wearing a blue shirt and holding a small black doll. João Pedro looks at the doll and smiles.
João Pedro

Paola credits her motivation in advocating for the IEP to the four years of work accompanying the development of the student João Pedro. During this time, João Pedro not only developed academic skills but also improved his autonomy and independence in self-care and musical abilities. Moreover, his case study helped expand the mindset of teachers and family members regarding what is possible to achieve for the education of young people with disabilities.

Picture of Victor Gabriel, standing up, using his school uniform.
Victor Gabriel

At that time, Paola held the position of Special Education Manager and encountered resistance from teachers who believed that an individualized plan would not be beneficial for students with severe disabilities. Through her communication efforts and the expertise provided by Perkins, Paola discovered lesson plans, learning maps, and developmental approaches. From her communication work with another case, this time Victor Gabriel, a young person diagnosed with multiple disabilities, whose doctors discouraged the family from having any prospects for the future, she was able to acquire another example of what is possible to achieve in the education of students with disabilities. This knowledge helped Paola and her team to create an individualized plan for him. Today, not only is Victor able to speak, but he is also attending a state university and pursuing studies to become an accountant.

Systemic Change: The Ultimate Goal

Governments must work on creating effective educational policies that promote equal opportunities for children with disabilities. In Tocantins’ current model, students with disabilities attend the regular school in one shift and receive additional support at a different time from professionals in special education, who are equipped to give additional pedagogical support to students. The IEP implementation will improve the pedagogical coordination between teachers of each shift as it will help educators reflect on each student’s condition and to take ownership as a team. 

Paola believes that the impact on the educational system will be significant, influencing an overall change in the attitude of teachers and other professionals who“will start seeing students with disabilities as capable individuals who can learn and develop, adopting individualized strategies and establishing a collaborative dialogue with families.”

Furthermore, the integration of IEPs in the new state education system will have a comprehensive impact, promoting the development of students both in school and within their families and society as a whole. In Tocantins, IEPs will be implemented in all schools managed by the state government, comprising around 500 schools, benefiting over 145,000 students.

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