Our work with schools and villages in Central Malawi to give all children the chance of a good education is showing encouraging results. It is touching the lives of over 2,000 children with special educational needs.
We are working across the rural districts of Kasungu and Nkhotakota in partnership with Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), which runs many of the schools in Malawi. Children with disabilities, their families, teachers, school management committees, mother groups, village elders and local education and health officials have all taken up our training on disability and inclusive education.
Hearing loss is reportedly the most common disability among children in Malawi. Notable causes are illnesses like malaria and some medicines used to treat it, chronic otitis media or middle ear infection and meningitis. Yet hearing impaired children can be shunned as cursed or stupid.
Our past projects in Northern Malawi raised active awareness about the ability and right of children with hearing loss to learn. This created demand for our current project to embrace both these children and children with other disabilities in the spirit of “leaving no one behind”.
Most village elders taking part in this project backed by Comic Relief and others have brought in by-laws, enforceable by fines, to promote education for all. Village Headman Chiloro in Nkhotakota said:
“I will not allow any parent to keep a child of school-going age home whilst his or her friends are going to school. Every child with or without disabilities must go to school so that they should get educated and in the long run develop our area.”
Inspired by our training, some groups of villagers have also mobilised sufficient resources to build ramps to classrooms to help children with physical disabilities to enter (see headline photograph). Plus, we have successfully formed support groups for parents of children with disabilities around the 70 mainstream primary schools that we have reached so far.
Most children with special educational needs identified through our training activities are experiencing friendlier attitudes. Fewer of those in school are dropping out, hundreds have newly enrolled in or returned to school, and many have performed better in end-of-year exams.
“Many friends repeated for me in class wherever I needed clarity, if I did not hear the teacher well. Several times my teachers in grade eight taught me more when all my friends had gone home.”