The SMILE project, Nigeria

The ‘Support Mainstreaming Inclusion so all Learn Equally’ (SMILE) project is a community-driven initiative to promote inclusive education in mainstream schools.

A young student in a classroom in Nigeria, holding a pencil and writing on a pad of paper.

About the project

Nigeria has the highest estimated number of children out of school in the world. These children include large numbers of girls, children from nomadic communities and 90 per cent of Nigeria’s children with disabilities.

Children with disabilities face multiple barriers to participating in education including inaccessible schools, a lack of qualified teachers and support services, discrimination, and an inflexible curriculum.

The UK Aid-funded Support Mainstreaming Inclusion so all Learn Equally (SMILE) project was designed to respond to these challenges and innovate and test a locally-led blueprint for inclusive education in Nigeria between May 2019 and September 2023.

Watch the video: Learn more about the SMILE project and its impact on the lives of children with disabilities in Nigeria.

Project partners: Sightsavers, Institute of Development Studies, Nigerian Association of the Blind, Nigerian National Association of the Deaf, Albino Foundation, Home for the Handicapped Persons Foundation, Women with Disability Self-Reliance Foundation, Federal Ministry of Education Nigeria, Ministry of Education Kaduna State, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board.

Project snapshot

The SMILE project has created a locally-led, sustainable and replicable model for inclusive education in Nigeria.

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A female teacher looks into the camera as her pupils study in class behind her.

Sherifat’s story

A female teacher looks into the camera as her pupils study in class behind her.

Sherifat is a teacher at one of the SMILE project schools in Kaduna state, Nigeria.

“Through the SMILE project, I’ve received training on inclusive education – we were taught that it is necessary to make education inclusive in such a way that all children will be given opportunity to learn in the same environment regardless of their physical, emotional, social or linguistic capabilities.

“It’s about including children with disabilities, making them feel part of society – enhancing their social interactions, increasing their learning potential and giving them the right, full support when needed.”

What has the project achieved?


At community level we have supported parents and communities to understand that children with disabilities have a right to education. We distributed a newly developed guide to support parents and established strong links between parents, OPDs and schools to significantly increase enrolment rates.

Governance and policy

Our partner OPDs developed effective advocacy plans to drive commitments to scaling up inclusive education in Nigeria. We engaged national, state and local government area level education bodies on the project’s steering committee to further guide how the project was implemented.

Systems strengthening

We established models of good practice to inform education ministries about low-cost inclusive approaches that can be scaled up. We trained teachers in inclusive education and supported school management committees and parent teacher associations to guide schools on removing barriers to education for boys and girls with disabilities.

Close partnerships

Organisations of people with disabilities have been involved in all stages of the project, and women with disabilities are represented in the project’s steering committee. The project has also fed into the Partnerships for Learning for All in Nigeria (PLANE) project, a FCDO-funded education programme in Kaduna, Kano, and Jigawa states.

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a black headscarf and dress, smiles at the camera.

Risikat's story

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a black headscarf and dress, smiles at the camera.

Risikat is the executive director of Women with Disability Self Reliance Foundation, an OPD organisation in Kaduna, and a member of the SMILE project's steering committee.

“The steering committee is a combination of government and OPDs. Our role is to increase the participation of people with disabilities, to make sure that projects are designed in a more inclusive way, and that the voices of people with disabilities are heard.

“The government now realise that we have the potential to lead, to make decisions on issues affecting us.”

Useful resources

SMILE learning compendium

A summary of learning and evidence from the SMILE project.

Wellbeing and inclusion checklist tool

A tool to assess the inclusion and wellbeing of children with disabilities.

On data and disability: piloting the Child Functioning Module in Nigerian schools

A blog about piloting the Child Functioning Module during school enrolment as part of SMILE.

Support guide for parents and caregivers of children with disabilities

A resource guide to support parents and caregivers of children with disabilities.