#Inclusive Education
Changing perceptions about disability

Decreasing stigma about disability in Sierra Leone.

Plan International Ireland’s Disability Programme Coordinator, Frank Velthuizen reports back after his recent visit to Sierra Leone to deliver inclusive education training to teachers.

Why was the child born deaf? Because the father never listened to his wife’s parents before he impregnated her!

In Sierra Leone, children with disabilities suffer from both stigma and discrimination. Most are invisible in their communities with little chance of going to school. Teachers in Ireland  might be the ones standing up for children with disabilities, whereas here in Sierra Leone, they more often than not share the same negative perceptions as the rest of the community. The reasons for this are simple: teachers aren’t given the necessary training and support to help them include children with disabilities in their classrooms.

The Irish connection

Plan International Ireland, through its Irish Aid funded EQUIP project, is supporting communities in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Guinea Bissau to change attitudes and ensure children with disabilities can access inclusive, quality education. A key aspect is educating the teachers how to include children with disabilities and ensure they receive relevant education.

In Sierra Leone, Plan International Ireland has partnered with the Institute of Special Needs of the University of Makeni to give teachers the skills needed to include children with special needs in the classroom. This isn’t the only connection to Ireland. In 1979, Sr. Mary from Donegal established St. Joseph’s School for Hearing Impaired Children.  Recognising the need for specialised training for teachers in inclusive education, she helped to found the Institute for Special Needs in 2005.

Pathway to progress

Over the past month, I have delivered, together with lecturers from Makeni University, intensive training to 32 teachers from Plan International Ireland supported schools. Five simple steps were identified:

  • Address existing perceptions, demystify cultural believes and address existing barriers for participation;
  • Provide real-life experiences of impairment;
  • Introduce concept of inclusive education, and how to manage an inclusive classroom;
  • Provide practical examples of amended activities e.g. finger-spelling, peer-learning, jollyphonics to support teaching in an inclusive classroom;
  • Provide ways how to identify children with disabilities in the classroom.

Ebola’s legacy

These training sessions would not have been possible less than six months ago as the threat of Ebola was all too real for the communities we were working in. Despite a reduced risk, precautions were still being taken: temperatures were taken on entering the university campus and hand-washing in chlorinated water was mandatory.

Ebola has left deep scars in this society. There is evidence to suggest that about 15-30% (1*) of Ebola survivors have been left with hearing loss and that the prevalence of blindness, caused by uveitis, is increasing. The need to prepare teachers to include children with hearing or sight impairments in their classrooms has never been greater.

The first steps have been taken to ensure that children with disabilities are included in schools. However, our work with the University of Makeni must continue if we are to meet the recently agrees Sustainable Development Goals on inclusive education.

  • (1*) – http://www.scidev.net/global/disease/analysis-blog/disability-hurdle-ebola-survivors.html

On the ground, delivering real results

15-30% *

Ebola survivors with hearing loss


teachers trained in inclusive education


childen in EQuIP schools

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