Sight Savers International (SSI) works in partnership with the Ugandan Government to ensure that blind and low-vision children access education through the Universal Primary Education programme in the districts. Some important lessons have been learned about involving parents in the education of their children, as Phoebe explains in this article.
The success of a child’s education can depend a lot on the support of his/her parents or caregivers. There needs to be a good relationship between parents, teachers and pupils. This is particularly important for children with disabilities. Many parents of blind and low-vision children are unsure of their children’s potential. Parents may be frightened to send their children to school in case they get lost, hit by a vehicle, etc. Blind and low-vision children often drop out of school or attend irregularly. Often we find them at home, doing nothing or carrying out domestic chores.
The role of disabled people’s organisations
Many parents are not aware of their children’s rights to education. The Kamuli District Association of the Blind is promoting parents to play a bigger role in the education of their children, especially through visits to schools and lobbying teachers and the districts.
Overcoming parents’ fears of school
Many parents may never have attended school and so are in awe of the education process. Schools must therefore be welcoming and supportive to parents who take an interest. Encouraging the development of parent support groups is a good way to build parents’ confidence and help them to understand and discuss teachers’ concerns about their children. Informal parent support groups have improved the situation for parents in one school in Kamuli district. One teacher (a blind person) said that fewer children are dropping out of school and the children now talk about their parents’ visits to school.
Encouraging parents into school
Parents are encouraged to visit their children at school and build a rapport with the teachers. During these visits, parents can see what benefits other children gain from school, and whether this matches what their disabled children are getting. With this insight, parents can play a key role in monitoring the progress of their children and even lobbying for Braille paper, appropriate exams and large print books. Parents can talk to non-disabled children to encourage them to support blind and low-vision peers in their class. Often the people responsible for such issues fight for the rights of these children without involving the parents, yet when parents are trained and aware of the issues they can play a key role in their children’s education.
We have found that parents who are involved with the school, even take their demands for quality education to the sub-county or district level, where they draw on their experiences in the school to illustrate their cases. One of the parents visited a district official and reported that he is “quite an understanding man, contrary to what I used to think. He had no idea about blind children and has promised to help in future”. This parent was proud of the visit; it marked a step forward.
The role of teacher
We also need to ensure that teachers have a positive attitude towards disability and are willing to engage with parents. Teachers can help parents by developing action plans for their visits to school, and parents can make sure that the concerned teachers are available for these visits. Social workers, where they exist, could also be trained to brief parents about their role in their children’s education.
In our experience, teachers visit the homes of disabled children and explain to parents what to expect for their children when they attend school, and what role they, as parents, may be asked to play. The teacher will often be the first person to encourage the parent to visit their child at school.
SSI’s work in Uganda has shown the importance of recognising parents’ roles in education. Parents also benefit from the education of their children, and may be more committed to promoting education rights than some professionals, who may see it as just a job, not a matter of family security and happiness. We would encourage all inclusive education programmes to explore the role of parents and carers if they want to achieve better results for all learners.
Phoebe is a Project Officer, assisting SSI partners to develop programmes to promote the rights and improve the quality of life of blind and low-vision persons, and prevent blindness.
Sight Savers International,
East African Development Bank Building
2nd Floor, 4 Nile Avenue
P. O. Box 21249, Kampala.