How Peter Went Back to Learning
The classroom is bursting with energy as a few dozen children jump, clap and sing all at once. Seven-year-old Peter is one of them, singing and bouncing along to the rhythm. He’s excited to be here, especially because it wasn’t that long ago that he couldn’t go to school at all.
Peter lives his life with epilepsy and muscular dystrophy, which affect his learning, speech, and motor skills. Finding a school that could accommodate his special needs was difficult and costly. When his parents couldn’t afford private schooling anymore, Peter was forced to drop out and spend his days at home. For a boy as curious and social as Peter, it was a huge blow.
The Challenges of Learning
In this rural part of Tanzania, few schools have the resources to properly include children with complex needs; most that do are private schools that require fees. When Peter was younger, his parents enrolled him in a nearby private pre-school that could accommodate his learning needs, but as he grew, the costs of a private primary school were too much for them. Peter was forced to leave school entirely. Instead of going to school, Peter stayed home with his grandmother during the day.
“I hated staying at home doing nothing,” Peter says.
While Peter was at home, a school inclusion committee started operating in his community. The committee’s volunteers, which were supported by Right To Play, worked to get children into school and learning, with a focus on children with disabilities.
“I hated staying at home doing nothing.” – Peter, 7
The school inclusion committee ran a campaign where they visited homes door-to-door, encouraging families with children who were out of school to send them back. The committee also helped teachers at a local primary school access Right To Play-led training about how to create more inclusive learning environments. When the committee discovered Peter’s situation, they helped him re-register in school.
“That was on a Friday,” says Peter’s teacher, Boke. “And the next Monday Peter came to school.”
A Young Boy Finds His Place
Peter was overjoyed to be back in school, where he could learn and play with his friends. But the adjustment was difficult. During his time at home, he hadn’t been speaking or reading much. He was behind his classmates and was self-conscious about participating. Simple mathematical problems were hard for him.
“At first Peter was afraid to try,” Boke says. “When told anything he would just say, ‘Teacher, I can’t.’”
But Boke was persistent. ‘Whenever he answered with “I can’t,”’ she says, ‘I kept telling him, “Yes you can, you will learn.”’ Though he struggled at first, Peter kept trying, and soon, his reading and math skills started to improve. The encouragement he got from his teacher helped, but it was Peter’s inner resilience that was the biggest difference-maker.
‘Whenever he answered with “I can’t,” I kept telling him “Yes, you can, you will learn.”’ – Boke, Peter’s Teacher
“I enjoy coming to school, my teacher loves me,” he says.
Along with stronger academic skills, school also gave Peter the chance to bond with his peers. Staying at home had left him with a relatively small vocabulary and not a lot of practice speaking, but his warm and affectionate nature quickly won over his classmates. It helped that the active, engaging games they were using to learn had been designed or adapted so that Peter and other children with disabilities in the school could fully participate and contribute in class.
"All of Peter’s fellow students love him. And he is also very affectionate towards his fellow students,” Boke says.
A Small Change Creates a Big Difference
Peter’s story is all too common. The World Bank estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of children in Africa who are under 14 and have disabilities are attending school. Poverty and social stigmas create systemic barriers in education that marginalize children with disabilities and deny them their right to a quality education.
The school inclusion committee and teacher training were made possible through Right To Play’s Enhancing Quality and Inclusive Education (EQIE) program, which aims to create supportive, inclusive learning environments, particularly for children with disabilities, in Tanzania and four other countries.
“I enjoy coming to school, my teacher loves me.” – Peter
Since coming back to school, Peter has improved in his reading ability, his speaking ability and other learning skills. He has also improved in his physical abilities through the playful practice that his school offers. “His physical ability is also improving from day to day. Peter is now able to play with his peers without falling,” says Boke.
“I love doing exercise and playing football,” Peter says about the games and activities that are building his independence.
Peter’s grandmother beams with pride when she talks about Peter and how far he’s come. She does everything she can to support him in his schooling. Peter is an example of how just a few small changes can transform a child’s life. Once the right environment had been created, all it took was a visit to his home to get him back into class – a place where he now thrives. He never misses a single class.
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The Enhancing Quality and Inclusive Education (EQIE) program is possible thanks to the generous support of NORAD. EQIE works to improve access to quality education for marginalized children, including children with disabilities, in Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mozambique, the Palestinian Territories, and Tanzania.