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Why are so many children with disabilities out of school?

The United Nations estimates that 90% of children with disabilities are not in school in developing countries. Many never attend school and the ones who do are much more likely to drop out than their peers.

Here are 4 reasons why:

Cultural stigma

In some countries, disability is associated with fear, stigma and shame. In Uganda, for example, children with disabilities are often considered to be a bad omen or a curse on the family. This can result in families hiding them away from society – a parent at one of our training sessions confessed she had been “too shy” to ever admit that she had a deaf child. The stigma often means children with disabilities don’t get the opportunity to attend school.

Lack of teacher training

Teacher training courses in developing countries often do not include curriculum on how to teach students with disabilities. In Malawi, for example, only 8% of teachers receive disability-specific training. As a result, it is common for teachers to lack the knowledge and confidence to teach those with disabilities. Margret, a teacher from Malawi, said she was was “filled with fear” when five children with disabilities joined her class, as she had not been taught how to adapt her teaching methods or communication techniques. This leaves many children with disabilities unable to participate in class, as was the case with sixteen-year-old Nelson who said, “I used to hate school simply because I could not understand anything in class. My performance was poor and I did not see any point of being in school.”

Low expectations

In some countries, there is a belief that people with disabilities are incapable of learning and achieving. In Uganda, children who are deaf can be labelled “abobo,” which means “stupid” in a local language. Parents who view their children as unable to learn may decide to keep them at home rather than send them to school and pay for school fees.

Communication difficulties

The stigma surrounding disability combined with deaf people being hidden away from society means very few people know sign language. Within schools, this leaves deaf pupils unable to communicate, make friends and hear what their teacher is saying. Thirteen-year-old Jonathan from Malawi was left feeling isolated and unmotivated when he could not join in, “I had a strong feeling that school was only meant for those who could hear properly.”

These are just some of the reasons deaf children might not be in school, but many more exist. At Signal, we want to change this statistic. We work with our partners in Africa to make sure deaf children not only have the opportunity to go to school, but to also thrive there.

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