How inclusive is Rwanda’s higher education for the visually impaired?

Visually impaired students during a lesson at Masaka School of the Blind. Photo: File

Daniel Nshimirimana, 29, lost his sight in an accident when he was three years old. Despite the hurdles in education, he had been the best performer in every class he attended be it in primary or secondary.

His outstanding performance earned him donors who helped him afford special education that is relatively expensive.

His secondary school classmates were all visually impaired and facilities were accessible because his school was specialized for that. But when he joined university, the special care had limits. Among 108 students in his class, only five had a similar impairment.

“You can imagine having to compete with 100 normal students,” Nshimirimana tells.

Among his classmates is Yvonne Nkaka, a 21-year-old who was born visually impaired. When she was speaking to The New Times, she was hurrying for a quiz that others had already sat for because the teacher forgot.

“It is normal for us to have to remind teachers that we are in class so they explain pictures or videos in the middle of a lecture. Or that we did not sit for a test because it was not translated in braille,” Nkaka narrates.

In spite of the University of Rwanda being one of the qualified higher learning institutions for inclusive education, the examples of Nkaka and Nshimirimana prove how long the journey still is in achieving full inclusivity.

Enormous gap’

Nshimirimana is doing a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication.

Although he always wanted to become a journalist, he knows some of his colleagues who were compelled to join social sciences because technical science laboratories and other practical workshops in the university do not assist visually impaired people.

In 2008, the former National University of Rwanda introduced Resource rooms that were meant to provide the visually impaired students with necessary equipment such as Perkins Braillers; however, as more visually impaired students joined, there was not enough room.

“In Huye campus, we are now 26 students in need of the resource room and one person in charge of assistance. It requires an additional laptop which some students do not have,” Nshimirimana says.

The Director-General of Rwanda Education Board, Irenee Ndayambaje, told The New Times that inclusive education was a continuous process that involves capacity building both for teachers and institutions.  

“Inclusive education is an extended process that takes time... Resources vary on the available capacity that eventually increases,” Ndayambaje said.

Rwanda’s 2013/14-2017/18 Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP) emphasises the need for a more innovative approach to inclusive education. In 2018, Rwanda Education Board partnered with UNESCO to conduct a pilot exercise to enhance inclusive education teaching and learning methodologies. 

“If teachers were qualified enough to support us on a daily basis, other challenges would not be as serious. We need their support more,” Nkaka said.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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