Laying the groundwork for special education in Ethiopia

Laying the groundwork for special education in Ethiopia

woman and man When Aselefech was a Grade 9 student she had a teacher with a visual impairment. This planted in her heart a desire to someday work with students with disabilities. 

Years later, Aselefech is doing just that as she teaches in a special needs education (SNE) unit in a primary school in Itaya, Ethiopia, a couple hours from the capital, Addis Ababa. 

She’s one of 203 Ethiopian teachers CH Global has given a one-month, hands-on training in SNE. The teachers are taught skills like basic sign language, and reading and writing braille. The goal is to equip them as thoroughly as possible to teach students with visual, auditory and developmental disabilities. 

Without the training, Aselefech wouldn’t be able to help her students with disabilities, she said. But they still lack resources, face challenges, and do not have enough training—especially when it comes to sign language. Signing may be a student’s only way to communicate, yet a teacher may not know enough to fully understand or respond. The SNE teachers especially face challenges when it comes to students with developmental disabilities. 

The SNE unit in this school originally consisted of just one classroom divided into five sections for different grades and different disability types.

SNE units teach Grades 1 – 4, and then the students are mainstreamed for Grade 5 and beyond. They have colossal challenges to overcome. For example, blind students suddenly have to learn solely by listening to teacher lectures, and they’re dependent on other people to read to them. Deaf students must learn from reading the teacher’s lips and reading what is written on the chalkboard. 

Though these may seem like insurmountable obstacles to some of us, it’s been astounding to see these students persevere and excel—some of them are at the top of their class. 

By partnering with government schools to open 81 SNE units since 2006, we’ve created opportunities for 1,700 Ethiopian students with disabilities to complete foundational grades of learning before being mainstreamed. 

Opening a SNE unit generally means we configure a classroom, train two teachers in SNE, and provide school materials, student uniforms and breakfast. After a number of years, CH Global phases out support and the government takes over. This SNE unit in Itaya has been on its own since April 2014. It has also expanded to include another full classroom subdivided for three more SNE classrooms. This is a wonderful achievement for a community that, when the unit first opened, was unwilling to send their children with disabilities to school.

We are continuing to create awareness for the need for SNE and have launched a new project to provide educational opportunities for 1,000 more students with disabilities in the next two years, give further training for 331 SNE teachers, and renovate or refurbish 30 SNE units to accommodate more students.