In developing countries, it is estimated that only 10 percent of all children with disabilities attend school because the educational structures are not adapted to their special needs. Since 2013, Light for the World, in Lubumbashi, has been running an Inclusive Education program for children with a visual impairment. Frédéric Ilunga is responsible for the program and tells us how things are going.
What training did you follow? What was your career path?
Fréderic: “I studied pedagogy at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique in Lubumbashi.
I taught biology in a secondary school for nine years. And as a Salesian Cooperator of Don Bosco, I was a social assistant for six years in a shelter for street children.
Afterwards I followed a training in Low Vision and worked for two years at the Nuru Institute for blind and partially sighted children. Light for the World has been supporting Nuru since 2003. In 2014, they appointed me as responsible for the Inclusive Education project for visually impaired children. ”
Why do so many visually impaired children not attend school?
Fréderic: “In DRC, education must be paid for, regardless of level. Often the parents do not have sufficient resources to send all their children to school. They prefer their sighted children because they think that investing in the education of children with a visual impairment does not pay. Especially because they feel like these children will have no place in society. ”
How is the detection of children with a visual impairment carried out?
Fréderic: “We organize detection, in three steps, to reach more children with a visual impairment in the district of Lubumbashi:
- Pre-selection: we make the children aware of the signs of visual impairment and draw up a list of children who show hints of eye problems.
- Screening: Together with a medical team from the Sainte-Yvonne eye clinic, also supported by Light for the World, we examine the pre-selected children and provide basic eye care if necessary. Children who are diagnosed with severe symptoms of low vision are referred to the clinic for a thorough examination and treatment.
- Follow-up: we prepare a report for the follow-up of the children referred to the clinic and for their integration into the guidance program of the Inclusive Education Unit. ”
In which cases can children with a visual impairment be integrated / reintegrated into “regular” education?
Fréderic: “For partially sighted children, this integration is going fairly smoothly. The difficulties associated with their visual impairment are stated in the personalized intervention plan and the class teachers are well prepared to provide educational guidance for these children.
Blind children must first master the Braille script and usually also have to follow a training in “Mobility and Orientation” and “General Daily Life Skills”. Afterwards, the students are continuously monitored by an itinerant teacher (e.g. converting textbooks into Braille). The best ratio for guiding blind children is one teacher for one student. ”
What is the role of itinerant teachers and what is the difference with a regular teachers?
Fréderic: “Itinerant teachers are trained in general pedagogy and specialise in the pedagogical guidance of children with disabilities.
They support the class teacher of children with a disability by guiding them during and after the lesson. Together with the parents, the school, the medical staff and other involved actors, they ensure the development, implementation and follow-up of the personalized intervention plan. The aim of this plan is that the children can participate in education in the best conditions. It is also the key element of their social pedagogical care. ”
What are the solutions for children that cannot be integrated?
Fréderic: “Children who have a learning disability due to their visual impairment can go to specialised schools or benefit from informal education. Here, the focus is specifically on updating the backlog.
We strive for an inclusive society. Adding children with disabilities to specialised schools should remain the last resort. These schools should also establish resource centers (see below) to prepare children, especially blind ones, for their integration into “regular” schools.
In exceptional cases, we are in favor of specialised schools that are also attended by children without disabilities. In this way we avoid that children with disabilities grow up in social isolation and are confronted with all the prejudices that come with stigmatisation.”
Is the outcome of the program positive so far?
Fréderic: “Undoubtedly. In 2014 we started with 25 children and now there are 180 students who attend school in inclusive classes!
After a somewhat hesitant start, we have now gained a lot of experience in guiding our target group and cooperation with all partners.
The concept of inclusive education is increasingly becoming an established value in our province. Thanks to our plea to the governmental authorities responsible for education, we will undoubtedly be able to reap more and more of our efforts and further develop our program. ”
Which aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
Fréderic: “Lifelong learning is my motto when it comes to inclusive education for children with disabilities. This approach is new in my country and I think we can contribute, over time, to the full development of the concept.
As an educator, I have always considered guiding vulnerable children a priority. ”
Photo : © Dieter Telemans
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Header photo: © LftW