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West Africa: Working Toward Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities

Since 2012, Handicap International has been improving the school enrollment and attendance of 170,000 children with disabilities in nine West African countries through the “Promoting the Full Participation of Children with Disabilities in Education” (APPEHL) project. Sandra Boisseau, who coordinates APPEHL from Dakar, Senegal, explains what the organization is doing to remove obstacles to education for these children.

What is the situation like for children with disabilities in West Africa?

In the regions where Handicap International works, we estimate that one in four children with disabilities do not attend school. Some families neglect children with disabilities or overprotect them to the point they do not enroll them in school; some children with disabilities leave school early because their needs are not taken into account. This is why our efforts to ensure all children are provided the same right to an inclusive and quality education are so important.  

Since 2000, there has been an increasing number of children participating in the educational system; however, efforts have stalled since 2008. According to UNICEF, of the 58 million out-of-school children, over half live in West Africa and Central Africa. The main reasons for non-attendance are distance required to get to school, poverty, children’s health, conflicts, gender, violence, and social stigma. Being disabled makes children even more vulnerable in their path to school enrollment and attendance.

What is Handicap International doing to fix this situation?

To improve school conditions for 170,000 children with disabilities, we conduct child-centered activities, such as the identification of children with disabilities, both out-of-school and in-school; social, medical, and educational case-management; and in-school and at-home follow-up. We have run training sessions to raise the awareness of educators and train them in case-managing disability, inclusive education, and data collection.   

Our initiatives also include organizing medical visits to schools in Dakar to identify disabilities or pathologies that could cause some students to fall behind or to drop out of school.

More important still, we want to permanently change the way people with disabilities are taught in these targeted countries. To achieve this, we organized a large number of awareness-raising and advocacy actions targeted at the education authorities of each country, in partnership with federations of disabled people’s organizations. We also help them develop more inclusive education policies and strategies. Ideally, we would like children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools in each country, rather than be placed in special schools.

What impact has Handicap International made?

In 2015, we raised awareness and trained nearly 2,200 teachers and administrators from more than 500 schools on disability and inclusive education concepts.

We directly impacted the conditions in schools by improving access, support, participation, and monitoring, for more than 10,000 children with disabilities, a quarter of whom were no longer attending school.

Among other actions, Handicap International has promoted mainstream schooling of children with severe intellectual and sensory impairments.

In Togo, we set up a network of mobile teachers who provide support in mainstream schools for children with disabilities. Some 50 schools in Liberia, Mali, and Togo have been provided with adapted teaching aids.