“We just thought my brother was a distracted listener"
Across the globe, people living with disabilities are reported to have the lower educational rates than those with no disabilities (Singal, 2015; UIS, 2018; United Nations, 2018). Not to mention a disparity based on the type of disability, for instance illiteracy would be higher in children with visual impairments and mental challenges compared to children with motor impairments (Singal, 2015).
Cote d’Ivoire is no exception, where the rate of retention or completion of school for people with disabilities especially in remote areas is not on the rise, despite the government’s National Strategy for Inclusive Schools (Stratégie Nationale de l'Ecole Inclusive - SNEI) even for the period of 2023-2027.
This is why the EOL-partner RIP-EPT (the National Education for All Coalition in Cote d’Ivoire), endeavoured to take issues of disabilities as their priority in 2022.
As part of this effort, the coalition added four new members to the membership of the coalition, namely the National Organisation of Parents of Handicapped Children of Côte d'Ivoire (ONPHA-CI), the National Union of Parents of Disabled Children in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOPAH-CI), HANHIMANTI NGO for the visually impaired and Confédération Nationale des Personnes Handicapées de Côte d'Ivoire, in order to strengthen the inclusiveness of the coalition and enhance the effectiveness of the coalition’s inclusive education advocacy and influencing agenda.
“Fast-forward, we started giving the lead to our new organisation members when it came to issues related to disabilities” said Jacques Kwacy, Project officer, RIP-EPT.
One of the things brought forward by the new members was the fact that sensory disabilities are most often misinterpreted and downplayed yet affecting the learning capacity of children – causing lack of focus from children with this disability and dropouts as most school authorities and teachers are not knowledgeable enough about sensory disabilities nor equipped to retain these children in school.
Addressing the issue through a sensitizing tool
The coalition therefore decided, with the help of two consultants (one for visual impairment and the other for hearing impairment), to produce an Explanatory document on sensory impairment for teachers in training.
This document sets out strategies for detecting visual and hearing disabilities in pupils and proposes ways teaching and supervisory staff can handle such cases. It was first presented to central education departments and civil society organizations in September 2022, and then to teacher training colleges (Centres d'Animation et de Formation Pédagogiques, CAFOPs) in the regions where the coalition operates. The tool was favorably received by trainee teachers and those in charge of training structures.
The document seeks to help teachers recognize the sensory handicap in children when behaving in a particular manner in class. It also provides practical ways to address it in their classrooms, guiding them in a new way of delivering knowledge to a wider and more varied target group.
“The guide was a hit with the heads of the centres for educational activities and training for student teachers (CAFOPs) we visited and with the student teachers. This type of document was missing from their training insofar as they were told about inclusive schools but in a theoretical way. The information contained in the document was used to give greater visibility to the practical sessions.” stated one of the consultants, Dr TANO Angoua Jean-Jacques, Lecturer-Researcher in the Department of Language Sciences at the University FHB Abidjan-Cocody.
"My brother at home showed these signs"
One of the initial recipients of the documents was a student teacher, who was listening to the presentation made by the consultant during the dissemination sessions organised by the coalition in a centre for educational activities and training for student teachers in Daloa, a city in western Cote d’Ivoire.
She was almost in tears, realizing that this was not only going to help her professionally.
“My brother at home showed these signs, we did not know what it was. We thought he was a distracted listener; little did we know he had a sensory disability. We did not seek help for him,” she said eager to learn more and seek ways to help her brother.
In total, 700 copies were printed instead of 500 copies as initially planned. This was to respond to the requests and interest from the educational actors.
By September 2022, the document was presented to teachers, headmasters, and education stakeholders in schools in three different regions in the country by the consultants who also shared the script copies while they used braille copies due to their disability.
Besides giving the teachers to be a very useful tool for early detection of the signs of sensory disability that will help them perform inclusive education, the production and dissemination of the explanatory document has also generally helped raise awareness on issues people with disabilities face in education.
The strong inclusion of organisations of disability groups as members of the coalition not only gave the disability groups a stronger voice in championing issues of inclusion in education, it increased the impact of the coalition’s advocacy on inclusion education.
“We now feel listened to since we became members of the Education for All Coalition. We carried many actions alone in the past, but our voice was not strong enough to hit our target. Now under the umbrella of the coalition, which is well known and influential, we organise events that are patronized by key actors and we have much more impact,” shared Camille Tano from ONPHA-CI, also the General Secretary of the coalition’s board of Directors.
Hope for a change
A year later, this year, the coalition felt rewarded from their efforts when during a monitoring visit they saw that student teachers they visited last year and presented the guide are now also taking keen interest to use this tool to better perform their roles as teachers.
“The explanatory guide on sensorial handicap that was shared with us has not only edified us, but we are also in contact with children on a daily basis. Today we have a new way of interpreting children’s behaviour in schools. We pay more attention to the signs. For instance, there is a child in my class, class 1, he always had discharges around his eyes. We thought he was not bathing well. But we later realised it was an impairment in his vision that was causing that. We reported this to the relevant people and the child got the necessary treatment,” shared a second-year student teacher in Daloa in the west central region of Cote d'Ivoire.
“I noticed a child always bending forward in class to hear well. Then I remembered what we were thought on sensorial handicap. I approached him, and upon confirmation I informed his parents and since then attention is paid to him to ensure he is hearing me when I teach,” said another student teacher.
The coalition is hopeful that even by engaging one teacher and a school at a time, inclusive education will soon move from a concept and knowledge to a requirement of concrete result driven actions that will eventually enable the provision of a quality education for all across the country.