Estelle Koudougou’s experience as a teacher and her current role as coordinator of Handicap International’s inclusive education projects sum up just how far the project and its aims have come.
“To start with, as a teacher, I was faced with the challenge of including a child with disabilities in my class. But I soon realized that I was the one with the problem, not him. I was the one who lacked the training to communicate with him and to help him learn. It felt like a revelation. And then I joined Handicap International and I had the opportunity to focus all of my energy on finding practical ways of including children with disabilities in schools in a village, then a region, and now at national level in Burkina Faso and Niger.”
“Once a child has mastered sign language, the whole class grasps the basics in no time”
Starting in a handful of schools, the experimental approaches taken by Estelle and her colleagues are pointing the way forward.
“The challenge now is to reproduce these experiments elsewhere, but we know it’s possible. We experimented with transitional inclusive education classes for children with hearing disabilities and then visual disabilities, which was rewarding, and we presented the ministry for education with a model that works. In these classes, children learn sign language or Braille, and the basics of the primary school curriculum. They attend mainstream schools and the children play together at playtime. Students from the transitional classes then follow the standard curriculum, with teachers trained in sign language or Braille taking over the teaching. What’s funny is seeing how fast the whole class learns the basics of these new languages so they can communicate with their new friends.”
“We’ve all got a lot to learn from each other”
Just like students learning together in the same classroom, when education and disability operators from countries taking part in the regional inclusive education project (APPEHL ) meet they learn a lot from each other.
“The experimental approaches developed in each country are different, and we always see new ideas emerging that are worth reproducing elsewhere,” explains Estelle. “We’re gaining momentum and we need to build on that by getting as many people interested as possible over the long-term. Educational standards in Burkina Faso increasingly cover things like teacher training, teaching aids and even the physical accessibly of school facilities. The needs of children with disabilities are gradually being taken into account in education policies and ministerial action plans. Community attitudes are steadily changing too, and we have every reason to think that these advances will continue into the future.”
Estelle never stops learning either. Alongside her work for Handicap International, she is currently studying for a master’s degree in
“The educational accessibility, remediation and inclusion of students with special education needs” (APRIBEP) at the Académie de Versaille. As part of her studies, she will be visiting France in October to meet with disability and inclusive education professionals, particularly those who work with or are interested in the use of digital technology in the education of children with disabilities: “Of course, you never stop learning. The main thing is to keep on moving forward and to feel we’re going in the right direction. The children we worked with several years ago have completed their school studies and are now in occupational apprenticeships, and the ministries we talk to are increasingly open to what we’ve got to say. All of our efforts are worth it. We have every reason to hope that, by working hard, one day schools really will be inclusive and accessible to all.”