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Rwanda, 23 February 2018: Inclusive education gives Innocent bright aspirations for his son’s future

Inclusive education calls for measures like physical accessibility, participatory teaching and learning materials, and individual education plans. Read Innocent’s story and how inclusive education changed the shape of his son’s future.

By Veronica Houser

© UNICEF Rwanda/2018/Houser
Innocent Ntawimenya and his son Oliver, outside his school, G.S. Ruhango Catholique, a UNICEF-supported school which promotes inclusive education.

Ruhango District, 23 February 2018 – “When Olivier was very young, I began to notice that he had developmental disabilities. He was not even able to urinate. I asked myself, would he even be able to grow?”

Innocent Ntawimenya and his wife live in Ruhango District, in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Innocent has seven children, but his son Olivier has a mental disability. Growing up, Olivier had weak motor skills, and he was not able to hold even small objects. Innocent grew more and more concerned as Olivier failed to learn and grow at the same rate as other children in their neighbourhood.

Although Olivier was enrolled in school, he did not have many friends and did not often engage with other children. With a shaking voice, Innocent recalls how other children used to call Olivier abusive names and tell him he was stupid. Olivier had to be accompanied everywhere by his parents to avoid mistreatment by his peers.

Innocent knew that Olivier needed a change. He decided with his wife to enrol Olivier at G.S. Ruhango Catholique, a UNICEF-supported school which promotes inclusive education for children with disabilities. At Ruhango Catholique, facilities have been rehabilitated to accommodate students with physical disabilities, including ramps, wider pathways and door frames, and disability-friendly toilets. Students with learning impairments learn in a regular classroom alongside other students, and daily lessons include concepts like the English Sign Language alphabet.

Teachers at Ruhango Catholique are trained on inclusive education and learner-centred pedagogy. The inclusive model of education allows children like Olivier to conquer their disabilities by learning from and with other children, as well as their teachers.

The classrooms at Ruhango Catholique are filled with enthusiastic, charismatic children. As their teacher moves around the room asking questions, students jump excitedly, their hands in the air, shouting, “Teacher, please, me!” eager to share their knowledge and participate in group lessons.

Inclusive schools also promote parent involvement in education through Resource Rooms, where parents learn to make learning materials from locally available materials.

Innocent enjoys visiting the school and moulding instruction materials from clay for Olivier and other students. He has also learned the importance of reinforcing education at home so Olivier can continue to develop outside the classroom.

Now 11 years old, Olivier is learning successfully in his second year of primary school. Innocent smiles proudly, reporting that Olivier can now count to 1,000, and his motor skills have improved so much that he can even lift a 5-liter jerry can.

“He loves sports,” says Innocent. “He is now willing to play with others, and the other children no longer treat him badly.” He beams as Olivier comes to join him, sitting on his lap while Innocent embraces him.

Innocent looks down at his hands, speaking slowly and deliberately.

“I can see that Olivier will continue to progress throughout his life, and I am so grateful. I never thought such improvement could be achieved so quickly.”

The 2015 Study on Children with Disabilities and their Right to Education: Republic of Rwanda noted that there is no incentive for schools to accept children with disabilities, and there is a lack of awareness about the learning barriers they face. UNICEF Rwanda supports the Government to implement the national Inclusive Education Policy in all 30 districts, and to address socio-cultural barriers which impede educational access, learning, and completion for children with disabilities.

 

 
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