An expensive school path to a university degree

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BURUNDI

It’s a sunny day in Bujumbura, one of Burundi’s two capitals. Daniel Ntiranyibagira, 46, feels the heat where he sits in class, surrounded by students, wearing dark glasses and headphones connected to his laptop.

As a third year social work and community development student at Hope Africa University, Ntiranyibagira learned to multitask. By listening to his lecturers, he must also find a way to record the information he needs for his studies.

It’s going well – in fact, he hopes to graduate in 2022 – but being blind remains a challenge.

Although he has the determination and was lucky to pursue an education, Ntiranyibagira wants the government to do more to support learners with disabilities.

For him, his qualification will hopefully be a weapon to lead social mobilization efforts to open up access to education to people with disabilities.

When he was five years old, Ntiranyibagira, in a serious accident, fell from a tree. He was seriously injured and eventually went blind.

As a disabled child, he was seen from an early age as a burden on his family. He was locked in his home for a year and, due to his disability, had to endure verbal abuse from those around him.

“I was rejected and deprived of basic rights, I couldn’t ask for anything. I felt stigmatized, ”he recalls. He later struggled to go to school.

Sitting in front of the window

Ntiranyibagira remembers the frustration when, reaching the age to start primary school, he could not go to school like others his age. But, an ambitious child, he accompanies a friend and asks to join the neighboring school.

“The teachers denied me access because I was visually impaired. I asked them if I could take the lessons out the window, ”he recalls.

Despite the rejection he experienced at home, in schools and in society in general, Ntiranyibagira has never stopped moving forward.

Eventually, he was allowed access to another nearby primary school. There he was the only person with a visual impairment and the teachers did not know what to do with him and therefore did not pay much attention to him.

“The teachers had no skills to help me as a visually impaired person. I could only listen to them, but I couldn’t take notes, ”he says. Whenever other children took a written test, Ntiranyibagira took the same test in oral form because the teachers could ask questions and he answered them instantly.

He was fortunate enough to finish elementary school and enrolled in a private high school.

While in high school, her situation improved slightly. School was a bit more accommodating, as he had acquired a braille machine that he could use to type and he could read with his fingers.

“It was a little easier, but still difficult. I needed a guide and someone to read for me. I could ask friends to help me, but they weren’t always helpful in the way I would have liked them to be, ”he says.

“Sometimes I needed someone, but he was busy doing his own chores or doing something else. In addition, only a few teachers mastered braille and it was difficult to interact, ”he adds.

A difficult journey

Fortunately, he passed the exams and graduated from high school in hopes of finding a job or entering university. But, he was wrong. He was unemployed for years and struggled to make ends meet until a Good Samaritan began to take care of him and help him enroll in college.

“You can imagine how it was … [because] I’m 46 and still in college, ”he says, explaining how his hopes of finding a job after school failed to materialize.

“I’m double the age of the students I study with. They are like my sons and daughters, which explains how difficult it was for me to access education from primary to university, ”he adds.

Despite his hardships, Ntiranyibagira remains determined and optimistic.

He says that at university he is supported by both students and professors, although he always has to overcome obstacles. For example, he cannot obtain Braille notes so that he can read them, opting to use the Internet and read documents via the Internet.

“Using the computer to learn is very tiring and it is difficult for me to conduct research and other activities like other students,” he said, calling on the government to step in by providing speakers and materials to support the school. inclusive education.

As a student pursuing courses in social work and community development, he hopes he will complete the courses soon and join the workforce. “I hope I can focus on community mobilization to uphold the rights of people with disabilities,” he said.

There are no statistics available for people with disabilities who have access to university, let alone those who have been able to access secondary education.

The Union of Disabled People of Burundi (UPHB), however, called on the government to streamline the learning process for people with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments.

They point out that people with visual impairments face significant challenges in addition to people with other physical impairments.

Régis Bigirindavye, also visually impaired, can attest to this. After struggling to complete primary and secondary education, entering university was more difficult.

“I was told that I was nothing,” he says, recalling the first returns from the University of Burundi. “I took the university’s phone number, came home and called the university to ask if they could allow me to enroll, but those I spoke to didn’t couldn’t understand how a blind person was going to do well in college, ”he recalls.

Even some teachers seemed to ignore his presence in class, he recalls. “Our wish as visually impaired people is that teachers and academic staff are trained to deliver inclusive education and be equipped with the necessary materials to support inclusive education,” he adds.

We must do more

According to Adelaide Nyigina, legal representative of the UPHB, the path to inclusive education is expensive.

She says universities across the country are designed in a way that discourages people with disabilities from even trying to access them.

“Students with disabilities face challenges such as a lack of accessible infrastructure and a lack of qualified staff to care for them,” she explains, adding that the appropriate teaching materials are also not available.

“In addition, teachers do not master Braille and sign language for the blind and deaf, who may want to exercise their rights to access university studies.

Nyigina also pointed out that visually impaired children are stigmatized in society and discriminated against by their families.

“Some parents don’t allow their disabled children to go to school, let alone university,” she says.

Government commitment

According to a senior official from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Burundian government supports inclusive education.

He said education policy in Burundi is an integral part of the education system as bound by the laws of the country.

“Such laws and ordinances are aimed at helping people with disabilities to have access to schools and universities so that they are prepared for a decent future,” said a senior official who preferred anonymity because he was not a designated spokesperson.

He added that in 2017, a national forum on inclusive education was organized, bringing together government and civil society to develop guidelines for inclusive education in the future.

“The transition education plan in Burundi for 2018-2020 also highlighted the need to support inclusive education and a lot has been done,” he said, but admitted that there was still a lot to do. .

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