Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential. A quality education gives children dignity, confidence and the chance to earn higher wages in future, setting them up for success in adulthood.
Children who do not attend school are also at an increased risk of abuse and exploitation.
Despite this, education is inaccessible to many. It’s thought that a third of children who do not attend school have a disability: that’s 19 million children worldwide.
That’s why Sightsavers fights for the rights of people with disabilities. Because of your support, children with visual impairments and other disabilities are thriving at school in Senegal.
Teacher Awa Diouf had never had specialised training in inclusive teaching before taking part in Sightsavers’ inclusive education programme. She is now able to read, write braille and teach maths using specialised tools provided by Sightsavers.
“We’ve learned so much about inclusion since we started,” she explains. “Especially the psychological side of things and looking after children with disabilities, even outside of school. I’ve come to understand a lot of things about disabilities thanks to the programme.”
Fellow teacher Soulé Alassane Sow has also been trained in a range of inclusive teaching skills. He’s seen first-hand that when children with disabilities are able to learn and thrive alongside their peers, it can boost their confidence and dramatically change people’s negative misconceptions about their capabilities.
“At the beginning, these children were a bit shy, but as the weeks and years go by, we notice that they have changed radically,” he says. “They are children who have become fulfilled. This programme has allowed them to not only attend school, but to really have the opportunity to grow, to become familiar and to have companions.”
The inclusive education programme, which launched in 2017, currently runs in three of Senegal’s 14 regions, with plans to roll it out across the country in future. Funded by Irish Aid, it aims to ensure access to education for children with disabilities (particularly girls) by training teachers, promoting the importance of education and involving local communities in the process.
As well as developing new skills, teachers are also helping to conduct research: they have focused on the constraints facing children with disabilities in education, and examined whether there are differences in the way that girls and boys with disabilities experience the education system. This participatory approach of involving local teachers in the research ensures the community can quickly act upon the findings, to make sure no more children in the community are left behind.
Soulé says the research side of the programme has been fascinating. “I’ve been able to find out about the children’s concerns, and the problems their parents face,” he explains. “These are students who are often stigmatised by society: they are the victims of mockery from their own peers, but also from the population in general. With inclusion, there is a significant change in mindset that is starting to emerge.”
So how has the programme made a difference? “If we speak about success, the main success of inclusion is socialisation,” explains Awa. “In our school, we found that children prefer to be at school than at home. It means they have not been marginalised.
“One girl [with a disability] said that now, in the morning when the other students take their bags to go to school, she too can take her bag to go to school. She was so proud. She said that in class, the teacher called her by her name – that is something that stood out. She was being treated as a person in her own right.”
Last year, Sightsavers supported more than 19,000 children with disabilities in school and helped to train 41,520 teachers like Soulé and Awa.
Your support means that we can continue to promote inclusive, quality education, giving all children the chance to escape dependence and participate fully in society. Thank you.