Educating disabled children

Despite efforts to accommodate disabled students in Niger's schools, a lack of trained specialists limits the number of children schools can serve, according to the NGO Handicap International.

"Schools for blind and deaf persons do not have qualified teachers to work with this population," Abdourhamane Barké, an outreach worker with Handicap International in the capital Niamey, told IRIN.

Niger has five such schools in the capital Niamey. There are an estimated 4,500 people under 18 with disabilities, according to a 2009 Handicap International survey.

Since 2000 schools in Niger have offered additional instruction to help these children prepare for regular class work. In 2008 72 teachers were working with 272 deaf children in Niamey and in Maradi and Zinder in the southeast. Some 100 blind students are also enrolled.

Students get additional instruction for three years in these "integration classes" in sign language and Braille, alongside regular classroom instruction, according to the special education division in the Ministry of Education.

But most children classified as handicapped never make it to the classroom. Mariam*, a 25-year-old disabled professional who recently completed a master's degree, is an exception. "I owe my success to the support of family who stood by me through my coursework.”

Mariam is an exception because children with physical or mental disabilities are generally destined to a life of begging, said Fatou Sidibé, deputy director of the special education division. "They are pulled out of school to beg by families who see these children as a source of income," she told IRIN.

Education can break the "vicious cycle of poverty" that often entraps children with disabilities, said Niger's Minister of Education Mamadou Ousmane Sambo at a two-day Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) workshop, "Education as a Right for All", which ended on 24 September in Niamey.

For the 2008 academic school year, just over US$250,000 was set aside for schools in Niamey to work with disabled youth.