Our inclusive education project in Tanzania

Catherine Alejo

For the past four years, we’ve been working to support disabled children into school in Tanzania, East Africa. Catherine Alejo, Programme Manager for Uganda, and Tanzania, reflects on the project now it’s finished.

Children sitting in a classroom

In Tanzania, many children with disabilities end up dropping out of primary school. It could be because of many reasons. These include discrimination, poverty or a lack of inclusive transportation or inaccessible environments. There’s still work to be done within local communities.

We want to challenge the misconceptions children with disabilities should not go to mainstream school at all. So it was essential we worked with local government, partners and communities to show why inclusive education is so important. 

Our project in Tanzania

The four-year project was in partnership with Tanzania Cheshire Foundation and funded by Comic Relief. We aimed to create supportive and inclusive school environments for children with disabilities. We worked with the district government in Dodoma to select 20 schools in the Dodoma and Chamwino Districts. And we successfully supported 821 children with disabilities into education!

But the project was a real journey. And there was a whole range of elements to consider making the project a success. With our Inclusive Education Model in mind, we took a holistic approach. And we recognised lots of different partnerships would be needed to make it work.

Who we worked with

Working closely with the government was essential. They needed to see first-hand the impact of inclusive education. We had to show them support for children with disabilities should always be a priority. 

We worked closely with teachers and government officials to train them on inclusive education. That way, teachers knew how to accommodate children with disabilities in their classrooms. And how to make teaching and learning materials from local resources too. Schools were encouraged to establish school-based inclusion teams. These provided a forum to discuss challenges and solutions. 

Physical changes were needed 

But it was not only the lessons that needed to be inclusive. The whole physical school environment needed to be too. So together with the schools, we made physical changes to the school environments. We were able to add ramps, repair classrooms and make the toilets more accessible. 

By working closely with the local community, we encouraged them to take greater ownership of school improvements. We continued to lobby the government to take greater accountability for universal design. As well as ensure schools are accessible for all children, including children with disabilities.

How our work continues

Our work with Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) was also critical. Not only in influencing government but monitoring the impact of the programme too. Local OPDs supported us in monitoring inclusive education in schools. They were then able to provide valuable insights and recommendations on disability inclusion. And this work will continue beyond the project. 

It was important we raised awareness around why all children deserve education. Every child should be able to go to their local mainstream school. That way they can remain close to their families. We wanted to discourage the thinking children with disabilities should only go to special schools. So getting the children enrolled was crucial!

Once we enrolled the children, we referred them for individual assessments. This meant we could provide any specific support needed. Such as glasses, wheelchairs, or crutches. We also provided essential items, including uniforms and exercise books. And we set up child-to-child clubs in schools too. This helped create friendly, supportive environments where children could learn more about disability. As a result, the children forged valuable friendships and built their own confidence. These clubs were a great way to challenge stigma in discrimination in schools. They helped children with disabilities advocate for themselves. 

Working with parents

The project wouldn’t have been a success without the support of parents. It was critical to engage them from the start as it strengthened the links between school and the home. And this was particularly important during the Covid-19 lockdown. We also set up Parent Support Groups (PSGs) for parents of children with disabilities. Through the PSGs, we trained them on how to establish income generating activities. These activities helped cover school expenses. They also supported parents in planning for the future too. We want to see PSGs being linked with the government support mechanisms so they can continue.

While the project has made significant improvements to the schools we worked with - the work is not over. There are still some challenges. For example, some schools may still have inaccessible toilets. And at others, transport to school can be costly, especially in urban areas. This can affect the likelihood of some children with disabilities being able to attend regularly.

Access to education is essential

Access to education is a fundamental human right. And that education must be truly accessible and inclusive. So moving forward, collaboration with the government is key to helping overcome these issues.

Collaboration can ensure policies for inclusive education are in place. And provide support to ensure implementation plans are rolled out. It will be essential to pilot new inclusive solutions too. For example, access to assistive technology for children with disabilities.

These projects can help provide the government with evidence and good practice to take up some of these initiatives long-term