Muna and Miheret fight for Inclusive Education

Thursday, November 30, 2023

By Shumi Desalegn, CP & GBV Prevention Coordinator at World Vision Ethiopia

A student with a hearing impairment and her dedicated teacher are not giving up on their dream for inclusive education.

Muna is 18 years old and lives in West Hararghe, Ethiopia with her mother. She loves learning and aspires to a career in law. Muna’s greatest memory is her time attending primary school. As her teachers were trained in working with students with hearing impairments, like Muna, she easily communicated with other students with disabilities and the teaching-learning process was inclusive. She said that primary school teachers were communicative and understood the situations of students with disabilities. Teachers took time to explain.

Muna’s primary school teacher, Miheret, played a huge part in educating Muna. World Vision provided opportunities for elementary school teachers to participate on different capacity building trainings and experience sharing visits. Miheret was able to visit Makanisa School for the Deaf, a prominent school for students with hearing impairment, which helped her further strengthen her efforts to support students, though the support and follow-up from the government was very minimal.

Miheret notes that inclusive education is not on track at all levels. Due to efforts by World Vision, there is commendable change in primary school. However, students with disabilities are facing different challenges due to lack of special attention from school management and government officials at different levels, especially in secondary school and higher education. In addition, there is huge gap at pre-school education and children with a disability having access to pre-school education.

Secondary school was more challenging for Muna since it was difficult to communicate with students and teachers. The teachers didn’t provide special attention for students with hearing impermeant in class. Only three students with hearing impairment were in classes of 60-70 students and teachers lacked the skills to provide assistance for students with a hearing impairment. Miheret, Muna’s elementary school teacher, agreed there was huge gap at the secondary school.

With continuous support from World Vision, Muna completed high school and scored a result giving her entrance to higher education. It has been so tough to reach this level in a country/community where there has been a noticeable gap concerning people with disabilities. During her adolescence, Muna did witness a remarkable attitudinal change of community regarding people with different types of disability; in the past, people had much more harmful perceptions of disability. Miheret also added that due to an effort done by World Vision, the community’s attitude is greatly changed and many children with disability are now in school. Children are no longer hidden at home by their parents/caregivers due to fear of stigma.   

Despite positive attitudinal change, there are still many challenges for people with disabilities which hamper their fullest development. During her long journey as a girl with a hearing impairment, Muna faced numerous challenges at home, school, in community and at different service providers due to lack of appropriate consideration of her impairment. Muna’s mother could understand her sign communication a little and interpreted for service providers. Muna shared she was unlikely to get services at health centres, legal aid, and other institutions unless her mother translated for her.

Despite being one of only a handful of students with hearing impairment to achieve a high score for entrance to post-secondary education, Muna cannot attend university as there is not an adequate enabling environment for her to study. Even during the examination for university, no one provided clear orientation or direction for Muna and her other friends with hearing impairment. No one at the examination could communicate with Muna despite the support letter from her school indicating her and her friends’ needs. Friends with hearing impairment also shared this was their same experience at other universities.

Due to the barriers to continuing education, Muna has decided for now to start a small business in her town. Muna still wishes to join university and become a lawyer but the situation in universities doesn’t allow her to realise her dream at this time.

I am optimistic that I will lead in my life since I have got skills and built my relationship with people around me, unlike in the past, when people with disabilities are confined in the home. Inclusive education is the the key to empowering children with disabilities, and to bringing sustained change by breaking the deep-rooted chains of injustices says Muna