“‘Dream on.’ That was how everyone responded to our ideas in those days,” says Fatou Sidibé, head of the Division for Special Education at the Ministry of Education in Niger. “No one could figure out how to create specialized educational services for children with disabilities.” Even today, disabilities are often considered a punishment from God and are subject to prejudices, contributing to the marginalization of children with disabilities.
NIAMEY, Niger, 19 December 2011 – “‘Dream on.’ That was how everyone responded to our ideas in those days,” says Fatou Sidibé, head of the Division for Special Education at the Ministry of Education in Niger. “No one could figure out how to create specialized educational services for children with disabilities.”
Even today, disabilities are often considered a punishment from God and are subject to prejudices, contributing to the marginalization of children with disabilities.
“Some parents hide their children with disabilities, and some do not see any interest in enrolling them in school,” says Mrs. Sidibé. “And even if we manage to enroll them, there are many dropouts. They are forced into begging or they are abandoned. We need to raise awareness among parents!”
A startling success
But awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of children with disabilities is growing at a significant pace in Niger. Mrs. Sidibé’s division at the Ministry of Education is also playing a stronger role, advocating for increased school access for children with disabilities.
And the children themselves are achieving tremendous results.
“For the first time in the history of our education system, we have succeeded in presenting four children with hearing disabilities to take the final primary school exam, and we achieved a 100 per cent success rate!” says Mrs. Sidibé.
And according to the 2008 Situation Analysis of Children and Women, the success rate for the final primary school exam among children with disabilities was 90 per cent – well above the national average of 52 per cent.
Developing broad strategies
Still, obstacles remain.
“Unfortunately, teachers specialized in educating children with disabilities are scarce,” said Mrs. Sidibé.
“We have around a thousand teachers for challenged students who have never received initial training. They have only received on-the-job training or have participated in training courses offered by UNICEF and other partners.”
The Division for Special Education is working to correct this. In 2010, with support from UNICEF, Handicap International, government officials and other partners, the Division developed a national strategy to expand access to quality education for children with disabilities.
UNICEF and partners also supported the Division’s development of a manual for children with speech disabilities. The manual will improve children’s communication with teachers, parents and other caregivers.
“Parents hardly ever communicate with children whose hearing is impaired and who do not know sign language,” explains Ambarka Katouma, president of Education, Training and Integration, an NGO for hearing-impaired children.
“Once this manual is produced and parents are able to learn sign language, they will be able to better educate their children, and will find more pleasure in taking care of their children, to play with them and to take them to school.”
An equity approach to education
These efforts at increasing quality education for children with disabilities are in line with UNICEF’s equity approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This approach calls for devoting sustainable, cost-effective resources to reaching the poorest and most vulnerable children, advancing their basic rights to survival, good health and education while reducing inequality in all its forms.