Sightsavers Pushes for Inclusive Schooling in Mali
TACOMA, Washington – Approximately 2.2 million people in Mali live with a disability. In low-income countries like Mali, education is a major problem for the disabled community. Around 19 million children with disabilities do not go to school. Many obstacles still face those who are given the opportunity to attend school. Current education systems do not provide people with disabilities with the right resources to ensure they are not left behind. The ongoing struggle for equal education for children with disabilities, especially the visually impaired, needs to be addressed.
In Mali, only around 500 pupils with severe visual impairments are currently attending special schools to provide support for people with disabilities. Mali’s three special schools in the main cities are specially designed for blind children and serve as resource centers to support inclusive access. Further efforts to remove educational barriers for children with disabilities in Mali are being made by organizations such as Sightsavers.
Barriers to Inclusive Education
People with disabilities often face tough challenges such as discrimination and prejudice. People who are unable to contribute to the community are often viewed as a disgrace to a family’s honor. In addition, their disabilities are often attributed to the alleged misconduct of a family. Youssouf Diakité is the founder and director of a school near Bamako that is tailored to blind and sighted students. Diakité told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that “in Mali, as in other countries in the region, these children are often seen as a burden for their families who believe they will never succeed in life.”
Lack of awareness and exclusion are other obstacles faced by the disabled community, especially disabled children. Often times, families hide their disabled family members from the rest of the community. This can lead to stigmatization, such as misunderstandings that disabled children are generally incapable. These views mean that more children are out of school. Of the children with disabilities in low to middle income countries, 40% do not attend primary school and 55% do not attend secondary school.
Sightseeing in Mali
Sightsavers is a British organization that works for equal rights and access in the disabled community. In 1991 Sightsavers started working in Mali and was involved in the further development of inclusive education in the country. The organization is fighting blindness in Mali by training eye specialists and health workers, providing eye health advice to school children, and recruiting community volunteers to distribute necessary medication.
Sightsavers has also partnered with USAID to lead a new program to help elementary schools across the country translate the national language Bamanankan into Braille. Bamanankan is spoken by about 80% of Mali’s population, but has never been translated into Braille for the visually impaired. The language expert Dr. Issiaka Ballo’s Sightsavers project has become an important part of an inclusive education program for students with visual impairments. Blind and visually impaired children are now receiving Braille-related materials that promote equality between disabled and non-disabled students in education. This project will also enable children to be enrolled in schools where the main language is Bamanankan.
Sightsavers has also focused on translating the National Early School Reading Ratings (EGRA) into Bamanankan braille. In addition, the University of Birmingham in the UK has partnered with Sightsavers to develop standardized tests. This allows children with disabilities previously excluded from the system to take the same reading tests as their peers. Teachers will then be able to analyze the children’s literacy needs based on the test results, which will enable more sophisticated strategies and systems to be put in place.
Preserve language and culture
The translation of Mali’s national language into Braille is a huge step forward for inclusive education. It is a push to provide the resources necessary for disabled students to succeed in an educational setting. Laurène Leclercq, Global Technical Director, Education at Sightsavers, says: “It is very rare for local languages to be translated into Braille, but it makes a huge difference in ensuring that children are included in education and that people have access to have their own culture and expression. “
Since 2019, the Sightsavers project has had a significant impact on the availability of inclusive education for disabled children. Since entering the inclusive education sector in 2005, the organization has:
- 252 visually impaired children enrolled in schools
- Providing 75 stacks of Braille paper, frames and slates, two Braille printers, 75 pens and three television monitors for visually impaired children
- 252 children were given a UMAV card, which exempts them from school fees because of their disabilities
- 301 children with poor eyesight were given prescription glasses
- Provision of 1,004 updated learning and teaching materials
- Training 57 school principals and teachers to provide better educational inclusion
Through this project, visually impaired children can now participate in educational systems that were previously not available to them. Preserving language and culture is vital to a child’s sense of community and identity. It allows the child to feel pride in their country and themselves.
Sightsavers plans to build on the success of the translation project by revising EGRA to include children with hearing impairments. It also aims to ensure that the national math test for children with disabilities is available. With continued efforts, Sightsavers hopes the number of disabled children enrolled in mainstream schools will continue to increase. The organization also hopes that the translation of the Bamanankan into Braille will set a precedent for more texts and languages to be transcribed into Braille and made available to children with visual impairments. Elie Kamate, the Sightsavers Country Director for Mali, says that by translating local languages into Braille, they can “send a message to the world about what can be done for children with disabilities when given the opportunity to learn”.
– Nina Eddinger