Recommendations From Rwanda’s Inclusive Education Workshop
In Rwanda, children with disabilities are far less likely to start — and stay in — school than their peers without disabilities. Few schools have sufficient procedures, facilities, and qualified teachers to support these students, and their families often lack information about the services that exist and how to best support their children.
The country’s Special Needs and Inclusive Education (SNE) Policy, like USAID’s Education Policy, aims to ensure that all children and youth — including those with disabilities — have access to equitable, inclusive, and quality education.
Nonprofits and government agencies in Rwanda implement a variety of activities focused on inclusive education, including training teachers, creating materials, and adapting school infrastructure. But many of these donor-funded activities overlap, which highlights the need for more coordinated efforts to tackle this issue effectively.
Gender and Inclusive Education: Lessons from Rwanda in 2018
That’s why Soma Umenye, a USAID reading project, teamed with the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and the Rwanda Education Board (REB) to lead a three-day workshop for more than 60 stakeholders and partners. The event, held on June 26-28, 2019 had three main goals:
- Define realistic, short-term approaches to advance the SNE policy
- Enable participants to share tools and resources
- Improve processes for knowledge-sharing and collaboration
In five sessions, participants worked in groups to analyze key indicators in the SNE policy and identify vital next steps to achieve them.
Below are highlights from a few of the sessions.
Identifying Students With Disabilities
Understanding these students is essential for designing policies and programs that improve their learning outcomes. But data on children with disabilities is lacking in Rwanda, so the SNE policy highlights this as a priority.
In this session, Immaculée Kayitare, of the National Early Childhood Development Program (NECDP), highlighted two tools for identifying young children with disabilities:
- A screening tool for identifying developmental variants in children younger than three years old. This tool can help identify children who may have a condition that has not yet been diagnosed or who simply need further monitoring. Although screening is just the first step in a complex process, it can help direct people who need more support to the right resources. Participants discussed that — when combined with a strong referral system — screening can help match children with disabilities and their families to the appropriate support services, which ultimately will help improve learning outcomes.
- The Washington Group Child and Youth Functioning Questions, which are geared toward children younger than seven years old. This internationally accepted set of questions addresses function and level of difficulty, rather than health conditions or impairments. At the 2018 Global Disability Summit in London, Rwanda committed to using these questions in the 2022 census. NECDP has translated them to Kinyarwanda, and Kayitare noted the importance of adapting the questions to ensure they are culturally relevant and appropriate.
Best Practices for Collecting Data on Disabilities
Kayitare also emphasized the need to develop referral pathways, including health, social care, and specialist services to support students.
Improving Learning Assessments and Exams
Accurate learning assessments are critical for evaluating whether inclusive education approaches are working. In this session, Peter Gatare Gasinzigwa of REB highlighted ways the board accommodates these students and the remaining challenges.
The board recently obtained several braille printers to let teachers print exams at their schools. Here are other ways REB makes modifications for students:
- Removing unnecessary diagrams or questions that require drawings or illustrations
- Giving students more time to complete exams
- Recording questions and responses for those who are blind/low vision and unable to use a braille machine
- Scribing for those who are unable to write
Participants noted that many schools, students, and parents may not know about REB’s services, so it’s important to raise awareness among these groups.
Finally, Gasinzigwa said REB still faces challenges in assessing students with disabilities. These include:
- Lack of skills and knowledge to identify these students. This makes it tough to figure out the best way to modify their assessments.
- Staff members lack competence in braille and Rwandan Sign Language. This makes it difficult to proofread and grade exams as well as ensure that children have strong foundational skills.
Training Teachers to Foster Inclusive Learning
Strong teacher training allows for targeted and effective instruction based on students’ learning needs, strengths, and weaknesses. REB has created a new curriculum for Teacher Training Colleges (TTC) that weaves inclusive education throughout all TTC educational tracks. The board is currently developing a textbook, tutor’s guide, and teaching and learning materials to support these units.
During this session, a few partners shared their approaches to inclusive-education teacher training. For example, the National Union of Disability Organizations in Rwanda (NUDOR) has:
- Worked with model inclusive schools to train teachers on the rights of people with disabilities, detection of children who may have disabilities, and braille and Rwandan Sign Language
- Completed infrastructure projects to make schools more accessible for students with physical disabilities
- Created key resources, such as an accessibility checklist and improvement plan for schools, an inclusive education training manual, and standard profiles for children with disabilities.
NUDOR also outlined some challenges they’ve faced in doing this work, such as continued stigma around disabilities, lack of multidisciplinary teams in schools, and insufficient special units and resource rooms in mainstream schools.
In breakout sessions, participants discussed the importance of involving teachers who have disabilities in inclusive education efforts for their perspectives and ground-truthing the work.
Making Digital Content Accessible
eKitabu, a company that works with publishers and schools to produce accessible digital content in Kenya and Rwanda, noted that the SNE policy includes two goals focused on accessible digital content. Will Clurman, CEO of eKitabu, stressed that just because content is digital does not necessarily mean it is accessible.
Universal Design for Learning to Help All Children ReadDownload the Toolkit
eKitabu then showed participants examples, based on the Universal Design for Learning principles, of how to adapt digital content for students with different needs, such as:
- Text to speech, audio narration, keyboard navigation, and braille-ready formats for students with print disabilities
- Alternative layouts and texts for students with intellectual disabilities
- Rwandan Sign Language video captions and glossaries for deaf and hard of hearing students
The company also shared its accessible EPUB Toolkit, which has a step-by-step guide for creating accessible digital content and a collection of resources and templates to help you do so.