Aimée Irimaso, 12, from Bumbogo Sector in Gasabo District was born with physical disability and couldn’t walk.
His family was not able get him proper treatment and he couldn’t go to school until at the beginning of this year, when a new page turned in his life.
His mother, Pacifique Nibarore, never for once thought her son would ever go to school. She assumed teachers would not receive him, and she didn’t have means to send him to schools for special needs children.
“He could not move except in his wheelchair. I thought he could not sit in the same class with others and study. That is why I delayed to take him and that is why he is 12 and still in primary one,” she said.
She eventually summoned the courage to take him to school thanks to a local NGO that cares for children with disabilities.
“He goes to school in a wheelchair with the help of his colleagues. In class, he sits in front and he is able to write on the blackboard while sitting in his chair. It is amazing how the school did all to help our children with disabilities to feel comfortable and study for their future,” she said.
“I hope that my son’s future is bright because he is mentally stable. For now, his results at school are positive, and he can learn like other students,” added Nibarore, urging parents with children with special needs to take them to school.
“Government should also do all that is necessary to provide basic infrastructure to facilitate such children in school,” she said.
Change of mindse
Jean De Dieu Kwizera, the Headmaster of G.S Bumbogo, says there are 36 students with disabilities in his school.
It is not easy to implement inclusive education but the school looks for partners to lend a hand in setting up basic facilities, especially for children with disabilities, he said.
“They need additional facilities like specific ramps for those with physical disabilities, some are not able to hear or to speak, meaning that they require more aids and a specific teaching methodology. The first step is to receive them then look at what can be done to give them the skills they need. They need love first, the rest is additional,” he said.
“School authorities have to change the mindset first and talk to parents and teachers. When children come to school, they can’t lack help. People are in charge of building the schools should also be taking note of it,” he said.
Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, a teacher at Groupe Scolaire Bumbogo says children with disabilities are able to learn but some are slow, especially for those with multiple disabilities.
“For example, for those with impaired hearing, we put them in front seats, to be able to read the teacher’s lips when they talk to as to understand what they are teaching,” he said.
However, very few teachers have been trained to teach and treat children with special needs by a few non-government organisations like Handicap International and Love with Actions.
“That is the biggest challenge we have. We are very few compared to the number of children we receive in different age groups,” he said.
Only three teachers among 40 have been trained to teach children with disabilities and they also try to share their knowledge with the rest, but it is still not enough.
Stakeholders can take part
Gilbert Kubwimana the founder and representative of Love with Actions helping poor children with disabilities in Bumbogo said parents should not refuse he opportunities of going to school to their children.
However, education stakeholders should work together to make sure the way for the children is paved, he says.
“We are still seeing schools with no facilities for people with disabilities. The challenges to inclusive education remain the mindset of parents and educators in general,” he says.
In many schools, there are stairs before reaching classrooms, there are no sitting toilets, blackboards are not accessible by children with disabilities and teachers don’t have skills how to teach these children together with others, he complained.
However, all the facilities are not very costly, it requires changing the mind and mobilizing resources and schools themselves can act on it, he says.
“We partnered with this school because most of our children come to study here. As Love with Actions, we talked to a humanitarian group who came in Rwanda for their own reasons but wanted to do something which could benefit the community. They raised around Frw900,000 to build ramps for children with disabilit, and their toilets,” he said.
Emmanuel Ndayisaba, the Executive Secretary of National Council of People with Disabilities said education among people with disabilities is still a problem even if much has been done.
“We still have schools which are not equipped to receive people with disabilities. The way classrooms are built and educators who don’t have skills to take care of the children with disabilities are still among the major challenges. They didn’t learn how to teach children with disabilities in school, nor trained on it,” he said.
In order to address this, a new department at College of Education in University of Rwanda has been established in order to bring out teachers with skills on special needs and inclusive education, he said.
Once they finish, they will train students in Teachers Training Schools, so that in a few years there will be teachers with special needs skills in all schools, he said.