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Educating children with visual impairment in Kenya and Uganda

Summary & Comment: Providing education for children who are blind or who have low vision is challenging. Traditional solutions based around special schools can only cater for a small proportion of children. Itinerant teachers move between schools and communities to ensure that children with visual impairment enter, and succeed in, mainstream education. DN

Author: Paul Lynch and Steve McCall Date Written: 18 August 2008
Primary Category: Kenya Document Origin: Birmingham University
Secondary Category: Youth & Children Source URL: http://www.id21.org
Key Words: Kenya, Uganda, itinerant teachers, visual impairment,

African Charter Article #17: Every individual shall have the right to education, cultural life, and the promotion and protection of values. (Click for full text...)

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Educating children with visual impairment in Africa


[Views expressed on these pages are not necessarily those of DFID, IDS, id21 or other contributing institutions]

Birmingham University, in the UK, has been investigating the role of itinerant teachers (ITs) in promoting inclusive education for the visually impaired as part of a one-year comparative study in Kenya and Uganda. Because most early learning comes through vision, children with visual impairment take longer to learn the basics of literacy, daily living skills, personal organisation and mobility skills. Intervention at the pre-school stage is vital to encourage them to learn and develop, and to prepare them for mainstream schooling.

ITs spend a small proportion of their time at home with visually impaired pre-school children. They provide tutoring in pre-Braille skills – such as sorting and matching activities – and encourage the development of young children’s orientation and mobility skills. They serve as links to health services by giving health professionals information about a child’s circumstances and visual functioning. They can follow progress with children who have been prescribed spectacles or low vision aids (LVAs), provide parents with information on where to buy them and access funding for those unable to afford them.

Education authorities in Kenya and Uganda are working to meet the needs of those with the greatest barriers to learning, including children with visual impairment. They are employing ITs, who are generally qualified class teachers and have undertaken some formal training in the education of children with visual impairment, either through a residential course or distance education programme.

Itinerant teachers are involved in the following activities:

  • helping identify children with disabilities who are not in school
  • providing counselling on how to raise a visually-impaired child,
  • often leading families to see their child in a more positive way
  • overcoming community prejudice against seeking education for such children
  • raising awareness among teachers of the needs of visually impaired pupils and the challenges of including them in mainstream education.

The promotion of Universal Primary Education for all children has dramatically increased the number of children attending school. Combined with the slow recruitment of additional teachers, the resulting rises in teacher-to-pupil ratios have made it even harder to provide support for children with visual impairment. The education of children with visual impairment in local mainstream schools can only be successful when the medical, education and rehabilitation sectors work together. Far more ITs are needed to support children in mainstream settings. It is important to act to overcome the many obstacles they face.

Recommendations include:

  • provide clear job descriptions so headteachers and communities understand their role
  • ensure ITs are trained to deliver a programme in motor, communication and social skills and
  • involve parents in practising these skills with the child
  • offer assistance with transport to eye clinics and children’s hospitals
  • ensure ITs have access to appropriate teaching materials
  • encourage health professionals working in eye care and paediatrics to liaise with ITs and to help increase their skills ensure schoolchildren who need them are provided with LVAs and know how to use them.

Funded by: Sightsavers International

Further Information:
Paul Lynch and Steve McCall
Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR)
School of Education
University of Birmingham
Birmingham BI5 2TT
UK Tel: +44 121 41448664
Fax: +44 121 4144865

Contact the contributor:

Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research,
University of Birmingham, UK 

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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