Children with disabilities in education: Rwanda programme evaluation

By Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop

1 March 2015

Cover-photo (1)In January 2015 I evaluated Chance for Childhood’s Education, Equality and Empowerment (EEE) project in Rwanda, which supports children with disabilities, particularly deaf children, to attend school.

Progress in Rwanda

Rwanda has undergone a great deal of transformation and progress on disability issues in the past few years. These include:

• The appointment of District Disability Officers in 2012.

• A member of parliament with disabilities (Rusiha Gaston) was elected for the first time in 2012.

• The Rwanda Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2013 – 2018 identifies disability and social inclusion as one of six of “the most important foundational and cross cutting issues (CCIs)”, which also include gender and capacity building.

• In terms of education, the same report states that “More emphasis will be put on the role of partnerships with the private sector to increase available options for education … Education personnel and teachers with skills in inclusive and special needs education will be increased in number in order to promote social inclusion”. These goals are therefore aligned with the work of CforC in Rwanda.

• A new government policy on inclusive education will be ready this month (March 2015).

• In March 2015 the National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) is due to publish a survey on the categorisation of people with disabilities in Rwanda eg age, cause, need etc.

Rwanda Finger Alphabet• A sign language (right) dictionary is in process after which the government will then assign it as the official sign language of Rwanda.

• UNICEF has sponsored the Ministry of Education to conduct a country wide assessment of needs of children with disabilities in education. Results June 2015.

This progress reflects the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) and its Optional Protocol were both ratified by Rwanda in December 2008. The Rwandan Government is therefore legally bound to protect the human rights of its citizens with disabilities.

The convention is important because it moves:

“from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society”.

This very much reflects Chance for Childhood’s approach toward the child beneficiaries of the EEE programme.

Disability and human rights

The human rights implications for people with disabilities mean that:

a) Human rights are harder to access as a result of a range of physical, cultural, social and attitudinal barriers, which prevent for example access to education and access to adequate healthcare. It is estimated that only 1 in 10 children with a disability in Africa attend school.

Many children with disabilities are hidden away in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa, because of the stigma associated with them, including that they are somehow a punishment from god.

b) There is a lack of protection so that abuses are exacerbated (such as sexual abuse, particularly affecting girls with disabilities).

c) The stigma associated with having a disability may be exacerbated by factors such as gender (girls can be more severely stigmatised) or left handedness (which can be stigmatised in Rwanda).

d) The denial of rights is itself a cause of disability. This particularly applies to poverty-induced illnesses and a lack of nutrition and preventative healthcare for communicable diseases.

In a survey by the Africa Child Policy Forum[1] 65% of respondents cited illness as the cause for their disability followed by during birth (17%) and accidents (12%). So an astonishing 82 per cent were healthcare-related either through maternal care or child health services.

A 2005 report by DfiD on disability in Rwanda[2], states that the main causes of disability that informants cited were: genocide and war; poverty (malnutrition, lack of adequate and appropriate medical care); ignorance (use of traditional healers, poor care in pregnancy, and so on); disease; accidents; congenital causes. Three of those causes cite health care related factors.

Key successes of the EEE programme

1. Community Mapping: The project mapped the number of people with disabilities in over 1,000 villages in Musanze and Gakenke. It was revealed there were 4 times the number (over 8,000) than the government was aware of. The mapping exercise also acted as community advocacy, sensitizing people to the existence and needs of adults and children with disabilities.

Mother and Child Rwanda2. Community advocacy: So many children with disabilities are hidden away because of the stigma associated with them, including that they are somehow a punishment from god. At one community meeting, the mother of an 8 year old girl with Down’s Syndrome (pictured left) stood up in front of the village and said:

“I am so happy that God chose me to have this child. I love her. She is a gift from God not a curse.”

This could only have happened due to the sensitisation within the village by the EEE project.

3. Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) to assist children with disabilities in school: 55 children are currently supported by LSAs. Zanard, age 9, had chronic ear infections as a child which led to deafness. Her father explained that since working with the LSA, Sylvan Bimenyimana, she has gone from being last in the class to 7th out of 53 pupils.

Teachers4. School clubs advocating for children with disabilities: Theophile, aged 18, (right with his EEE trained teacher Anastase Murekezi) was at Nyange Deaf School and has now been at Gakaro School, Musanze for two years. He is a member of the school club. He was so exuberant in his signing about how wonderful his teacher is. Other pupils told us how Theophile is the best in the class at English.

Claudine, aged 18, bottom left, has a physical impairment. She explained that children Claundine with and without disabilities share different skills between them. As in the case of Theophile and his excellent English, “just because you are disabled does not mean you cannot be really good at something and help others”.

Anne-marie, aged 17, (pictured right of Claudine), explained how “after school the children from the school club visit parents with a disability to make sure children have their rights”. They successfully persuaded the parents of an 8 year old visually impaired boy to allow him to go to school.

[1] The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), Violence against Children with Disabilities in Africa: Field studies from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia, 2011

[2] Mainstreaming Disability in Development: Country-level research, Rwanda Country Report , Executive Summary 2005


Liberty & Humanity

Watch a video about the Rwanda project and see Elizabeth’s other video’s on her YouTube channel.