Schools for Africa - Stories from the field

14 August 2020

How inclusive education works for children like Hodari

Rain pounds on the tin roof of Hodari’s classroom such that it is almost impossible to hear one another without shouting. Hodari, 14, sits among more than 50 other students, each popping up and down to command the teacher’s attention when she asks a question. Amid the bouncing children, the teacher picks Hodari out of the crowd. Each child selected reads aloud one Kinyarwanda word from a card distributed by the teacher. “Hodari, please come to the front of the room and read the card,” the teacher directs. Without hesitation, Hodari stands up, faces his classmates, and in a strong voice declares “IBERE!”

Hodari was not always able to read so well, or at all. Born with an intellectual disability, Hodari only began to read a couple of years ago. When he was just six months, Hodari’s mother, Immaculée, began to notice his disability. “He was not able to eat anything,” Immaculée recalls. “He could only drink milk and porridge. At first I thought it was my fault, because I haemorrhaged after child birth and was not able to breastfeed for 24 hours. But as he grew, I also noticed other issues. Even as he approached two years, he lacked motor skills; he could not grasp things or catch a ball.”

But despite Hodari’s disability and her husband’s doubts, Immaculée enrolled her son in his first year of primary school at the same time as other children. Supported by UNICEF, teachers at Hodari’s school are trained on inclusive education and student-centred teaching methods, where children like Hodari can overcome their disabilities by learning from and with other children. 

“What is my favourite subject?” Hodari asks himself out loud, pausing to consider the question. “I like to read.” He then jabs the air with one finger, as if making a point. “And write,” he adds. “I like to read and write.”

4-year-old Hodari stands in front of peers to read Kinyarwanda
14-year-old Hodari stands in front of peers to read Kinyarwanda vocabulary words in a primary class at G.S. Nyagahandagaza.

“What do I want to do after I finish school?” he repeats when asked. “I am going to be the Prime Minister.”

Hodari, Rwanda

“It’s true,” his teacher confirms. “He is a strong reader.” Recalling Hodari’s confidence when reading is Kinyarwanda word in front of his peers, it is not difficult to believe. Hodari has struggled more than some students, but he learns a lot by being around other children rather than being isolated due to his disability. With tears welling, Hodari’s mother exclaims, “I was so happy when he began to play football with the other children. He never socialized like that when he was younger.”

For a few hours each week Hodari also attends his school’s Inclusive Education Club, where students with and without disabilities meet to play games, sing, and dance. UNICEF also helps parents to encourage learning at home, so the classroom is not the only place their children feel included. “I help Hodari with his homework,” says Immaculée with a smile.

It is easy to see how comfortable Hodari feels at school. Teachers and students alike greet him and exchange a wave as classes conclude for the lunch break. He likes questions, and though his  responses might take a few more moments than most, they are decisive.

“What do I want to do after I finish school?” he repeats when asked. “I am going to be the Prime Minister.”