November 22, 2021
By Umutoni Marie
In Rwanda, the lack of accessible teaching and learning materials for learners with disabilities is often a major barrier to access and inclusion. Learners with visual disabilities often wait for braille materials, while learners who are deaf or hard of hearing lack access to materials in Rwandan Sign Language and are unable to participate in mainstream classrooms where learning is conducted in spoken language.
In September, 18 teachers in Rwanda’s inclusive model schools received training to help bridge that gap, thanks to eKitabu, one of three innovators awarded funding through All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development’s (ACR GCD) UnrestrICTed challenge.
In collaboration with the Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB), Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUB) and Rwanda National Union of the Deaf (RNUD), eKitabu held a four-day training to equip the teachers with the skills to use accessible digital content and learning materials in their classrooms by applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles so that no child is left behind in “learning to read and reading to learn.”
Training is part of Proof of Concept phase
The training is part of the first phase of eKitabu’s project, during which the team establishes a proof of concept by collecting data, experimenting and examining successes and failures to better understand what works, with the goal to scale what works in the second phase.
During the proof of concept phase, eKitabu is providing accessible digital content and 275 computing devices, including low-cost assistive technology, for use in schools, community libraries and reading clubs. The carefully selected mix of devices includes:
- low-cost Orbit Reader refreshable braille displays
- low-cost smart feature phones
- laptops for teachers with in-built accessibility features and open source software for accessing and using accessible digital content
- projectors to display Kinyarwanda storybook content in accessible EPUB, video, and audio formats to support engagement of children with and without disabilities learning together in groups
The devices will be shared by children with and without disabilities in learning together.
eKitabu is also training teachers from inclusive model schools in five local districts on how to support children with disabilities in using accessible content for learning in schools and outside of school setting through reading clubs, increasing availability of accessible digital content in community libraries, and building evidence on how EdTech solutions can improve reading and language learning outcomes for children with disabilities.
Event featured UDL foundation and hand-on training
Those who participated in the September training teach in mainstream classes in inclusive model schools supported by the Rwandan government through their Special Needs and Inclusive Education Policy. Their classrooms include learners with physical, visual, hearing, speech, intellectual and learning disabilities.
“Now is the time for all Rwandans to work together, including persons with disabilities,” says REB Inclusive Education Department Director Eugene F. Ngoga, who also notes that policies in place help support and integrate persons with disabilities.
UDL principles provided the foundation to the training, increasing the participants’ understanding of how to present information to learners of different abilities and disabilities using a variety of methods and allow learners to express their understanding of the knowledge in personally meaningful ways.
The teachers also had hands-on training in the use of different devices that contain accessible digital content, including tablets distributed to the schools through UNICEF Rwanda, and laptops, projectors, Orbit refreshable braille displays, and KaiOS low-cost smart feature phone devices provided by ACR GCD. The training increased teachers’ understanding on how to use the devices to utilize accessible digital content with their learners and embrace the technology as shown by the results of pre- and post-training assessments.
“It was great learning from each of the teachers on their unique ways of teaching,” says Winnie Muhumuza, lead UDL trainer. “UDL and technology is a super blend.”
During the training, the teachers also submitted individualized action plans on how they will use UDL principles and utilize accessible EdTech in their classrooms. In addition, a teacher support plan is in place to provide periodic refresher training, conduct follow-up planning, and feedback sessions through a WhatsApp group.
Pre- and post-training surveys, conducted to identify learning gaps and capture changes in teacher knowledge and attitudes as well as satisfaction with the training, revealed that the training had a positive impact on teacher understanding and a willingness to train other teachers.
“Inclusive education is essential, and we are going to be ambassadors to other teachers in our schools,” says Jean Bosco, headteacher at GS Musave secondary school in Kigali.
That kind of reach is important because Rwanda, like many regions, faces the reality that the majority of children with disabilities do not attend school, and this affects the data available to reach and effectively plan necessary and appropriate interventions. By including inclusive model schools, this project identified 183 children with disabilities and more than 3,400 children without disabilities who will benefit from the teacher training and EdTech solutions.
“There is a need to create awareness among parents and teachers on the different causes of visual impairment, from conception to birth, growing up and in schools so that classrooms and the environment can be adapted accordingly, especially in inclusive schools,” says Dr. Beth Mukarwego, RUB representative and head of the Inclusive Education Department at the University of Rwanda.
By working together with partners, governments and organizations of persons with disabilities, eKitabu will leverage this collaborative effort to ensure children with disabilities will have access to quality education through accessible digital content.
“Thank you to everyone who attended this four-day UDL training session,” says Yvette Iyadede, eKitabu Senior Manager Rwanda. “We want you to use the knowledge you gained to improve the learning of children. Without your will and dedication, we cannot achieve the goal we are aiming for.”
“Quoting the Rwandan proverb, ‘Teaching is not a want, it is a gift,’” Iyadede continues. “Thanks to ACR GCD UnrestrICTed Challenge for your support and also RUB and RNUD for being with us and sharing your experience in learning and excelling. Big thanks to REB for supporting and ensuring that the content that we are bringing aligns well with Government of Rwanda objectives.”
Umutoni Marie is the Monitoring Evaluation and Learning Manager with eKitabu.