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Educating children with deafblindness within their communities in East Africa

27 October 2014
Posted by Stevie Kent

For the first time ever, children with deafblindness in East Africa are accessing education from their local mainstream school. This is no small milestone given that up till now, governments and teachers alike insisted that children with complex disabilities like deafblindness cannot be educated through the mainstream system.

A few lucky children were enrolled in special schools but the vast majority simply missed out on an education. To solve this problem, Sense International (East Africa) had to think outside of generally accepted practices and engage parents, teachers, and government officials to innovate together and find a solution to put an end to the right to an education for children with deafblindness being systematically violated.

The result of this combined effort was the development of Community Based Education (CBE) for children with deafblindness, with a pilot programme now being implemented in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This is funded by the Big Lottery Foundation in the UK.

Three schoolboys on their way to school in TanzaniaExisting special schools have been transformed into resource centres with multi-disciplinary teams of educational and health professionals assessing chilren with deafblindess and, with the input of parents, developing Individual Education Plans for each child. Additional special needs teachers have been posted to each resource centre in order to go out into communities and train local mainstream teachers and parents how to provide holistic education and therapy for children with deafblindness at home.

A home based curriculum has been specially developed in each country, paving the way for similar approaches for other excluded groups of children. What is so unique about this approach is that unlike most Community - Based Rehabilitation approaches where NGOs are used to deliver home services, this approach utilises existing state infrastructure and human resources to provide non-formal education but following a standardised curriculum and set of quality standards. No longer will home based services have to come to an end when project funding runs out.

This pilot programme will reach 900 children with deafblindness and their families (5,400 people), and is building the capacity of 9 resource centres, 99 special needs teachers and 900 mainstream teachers to deliver CBE. The mainstream teachers role is key as they support parents by helping them to make lessons for the children out of everyday activities, based on the curriculum and Individual Education Plans.

Group of children smiling in Kenya

CBE has already changed 10-year-old Rehema's life. Rehema has been enrolled at Mukuru Kwa Njenga Primary school in Kenya under the care of teacher Samuel Isaboke who makes visits to her home at least three times a week to support her parents in educating her. In line with the holistic approach of CBE, Rehema has been provided with physiotherapy sessions 3 times in a week to complement the therapy being provided by her parents and teachers.

Her mother comments:

"The results of this pilot programme are impressive but home based education is only the first stage. Once the deafblind child has developed sufficient communication skills, the mainstream teacher will gradually start to include them in school activities and lessons."

We are working with governments to provide classroom teaching assistants to facilitate this next stage in the process. Ultimately our aim is for every deafblind child in all regions of East Africa to access an appropriate and quality education from within their own communities, so that children like Rehema no longer miss out on the education and therapy they need to achieve their full potential in life.

Stevie Kent is Senior Programme Manager at Sense International

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014