This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 9
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Title: Addressing poor ECD enrolment among children with disabilities in Rwanda
Author: Turatsinze, F, Nyembo, S and Harris C
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2020

Chance for Childhood’s (CfC) extensive experience of inclusive education has found that community knowledge is an essential building block within our programmes, especially where resources to provide standard pre-school services are limited. In this article, we explore how CfC’s Inclusive Early Childhood Development (IECD) project, challenged the mindset of caregivers to enable a more inclusive approach to early childhood development (ECD).

In Rwanda, only 1% of children aged 0-3, and 20% aged 3-6, have access to ECD services like state maintained and private pre-primary schools, or home and community-based ECD.1 Children with disabilities have even less access, with only 8.8% of 3-6-year olds attending pre-primary schools.2

Children growing up in poverty are more likely to have disabilities due to poor health care, and children with disabilities in turn are more likely to live in poverty due to social stigma and poor access to government safety nets. The cycle can be difficult to break, as Claudine’s3 story shows:

Claudine has two children. Her four-year-old has delayed development due to birth-related problems. Claudine’s family are unable to access paid work or support for malnourished children provided by the governments’ ubudehe social assistance programmes due to their household income being misclassified in official records. Social stigma and financial barriers prevented them from enrolling their child in their local community-based ECD centre.

In 2018, CfC started the IECD project in Musanze District, providing pre-primary education for children with disabilities.

Assessing the need
The project began with a scoping study of 10 caregivers and 96 parents to understand the reasons why children with disabilities were not accessing ECD services. We found that:

  • 36.5% of parents preferred to keep their children with disabilities hidden;
  • 27.8% said children with disabilities do not need to attend ECD services or school;
  • 18.8% felt they should access ECD services, but in a separate class from others;
  • 16.9 % felt that including children with disabilities in ECD services involved more work for caregivers.

In order to change attitudes towards children with disabilities, we worked with village, cell, sector and district level authorities to convene workshops with parents, ECD caregivers and the wider community.

Changing parents’ attitudes
To identify the parents of children with disabilities, we trained volunteer Community Health Workers (CHWs) and ECD caregivers in 65 villages on child development stages and milestones and using disability screening tools. During a door-to-door mapping exercise all the children of ECD age (0-6 years old) in each household were screened to identify any disabilities.

CHWs were trained in the risks and causes of disabilities, counselling sessions, toy-making, and how to support parents to respond appropriately to their child’s needs. Two 5-day trainings were conducted by CfC Rwanda team, who are inclusion trainers, community mobilisers and social workers mentored by the Disability and Inclusion Advisor. The tools used in the trainings were co-designed by Helen Barrett, a Disability and Social Inclusion Advisor, and the CfC Rwanda team.

The CHWs passed on information over the next six months, through bi-weekly home-based sessions with families of children with disabilities under three years old, using the tools from their training. Parents reported significant benefits to the way they now care for their children. For example, instead of locking them inside the house or tying them to a rope to prevent them from wandering off, they now spend time each day playing with their children and include them in their home rituals.

“I could never believe that Amos* can make it and learn just like his peers in baby class, but I am now surprised that he knows how to count up to ten and knows some songs. He makes us laugh at home” – Father of Amos3 a wheelchair user.

Changing attitudes of ECD caregivers
ECD caregivers at Centre d’Expérimantation des Activités Prés-scolaire (CEAPS) and Rwaza ECD centre were given 10-days’ initial training and another 5-day refresher on how to identify children with disabilities and/or other learning needs, how to include them in their teaching and learning practice, and how to produce inclusive learning materials and form constructive playgroups. The training was conducted by CfC inclusion trainers.

“I used to think that children with disabilities can cause disruption to other children and caregivers but have realised that it all depends on how you set your class as I am now convinced that it can work as it has started working well here” – CEAPS headteacher.

Changing community attitudes
Community advocacy events to raise awareness of the rights of children with disabilities were attended by 1,900 participants. These meetings covered a diverse range of issues including the risks and causes of disabilities for prevention purposes, children’s rights and helping parents to understand that all children need their parents’ support to develop and achieve their full potential in life. We also used the meetings to signpost parents towards existing support structures in the community and how to use them while referring their children to support options.

The need for long-term approaches
Much of the success of the project depends on the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of the community. Altering firmly held prejudices takes time and is difficult to evaluate within normal project cycle timeframes.

Community-based solutions are effective in delivering positive outcomes for marginalised children with disabilities. However, there is a need to assess whether using Rwandan home-grown solutions, community engagement, and feedback platforms alone are enough to change community perceptions about disability in the long term. Changing society’s attitudes towards inclusive practice involves more than giving a community new knowledge. Supporting them to act on this information requires interventions that focus on more than the short project cycles currently delivered by donors. In addition, there is a need to address current gaps in provision and support for households of children with disabilities living in poverty, like Claudine’s, to give their children the best start in life. This can be achieved by encouraging parents to work together, be trained on business development, for example, and come up with business ideas that attract initial investment. Supporting such initiatives should go hand in hand with provision of IECD services.

Felicien Turatsinze, is the Disability and Inclusion Advisor for CfC Rwanda. Email:

Stephane Nyembo (MA), is the country representative for CfC Rwanda. Email:

Chris Harris is the Global MEL Officer for CfC. Email:

[3] Names have been changed to protect privacy.