In Senegal, Deaf Students Study alongside Others

23 April 2024

Mouhamed Sall and three other youths in Senegal are taking part in a new program to teach students with hearing loss. The currently small program joins hard-of-hearing students and hearing students together in a few public high schools in the country.

Sall is going to school at Apix Guinaw Rails Sud in Dakar, Senegal's capital. Some of the hearing students there have learned sign language since Sall arrived.

"I have no problem communicating with some colleagues I went to primary school with," Sall said, through his mother. "The new colleagues don't know sign language but we still play together."

Mouhamed Sall, who is deaf, attends class at the Guinaw Rail Sud public high school in Pikine, Senegal, Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)
Mouhamed Sall, who is deaf, attends class at the Guinaw Rail Sud public high school in Pikine, Senegal, Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)

Salane Senghor is in his class. She also knew Sall in primary school. She said, "We've been friends, so it was easy to learn sign language."

The other students look to the sign language aide to tell them what Sall is saying when he signs.

The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, says about 60 percent of children with hearing loss and other disabilities in Senegal do not attend school. The country's government data is incomplete as its count only includes children officially registered as having a disability.

Sara Poehlman of UNICEF Senegal said, "We're looking for progress from the government to ensure every child, regardless of ability, has the opportunity to learn."

Senegal lacks a national plan for inclusive education, but it is developing one. Recent political difficulties have slowed progress.

There are traditional prejudices against people with disabilities in the country, as in many other places. Some parents of disabled children keep them from public life and usual childhood activities.

But opinions are changing.

In 2021, Senegal's football team for deaf and hard of hearing players won the first African football championship for such teams and competed in the world championship. The country's president publicly congratulated them on their success in the game.

And during the recent election, support organizations taught hard-of-hearing voters over 100 election-related words in sign language.

Now, students with disabilities are in public schools.

The organization Humanity and Inclusion began partnering with Senegal's education ministry last year. The team aimed to mix classes of deaf and hearing students in four public schools using inclusive education methods. Apix is one of those schools. The organization provides the sign language aides to the schools.

Sall is receiving a free education. Most disabled students in the country pay for education at special private schools. But, many families of disabled children do not have enough money to do that. Those children do not get to go to school.

Khadija Koundio is Sall's mother. She paid about $17 each month for him to join in at an activity center for children with learning difficulties.

Then he was able to enter primary school with the support of a similar Humanity and Inclusion program. It was created several years ago in a small number of schools for younger students.

Omar Diop is a leader at Apix. He praised the new school program but said difficulties continue.

Diop said, "It's their first year for the teachers, so that poses a problem because the children come with a much higher level of sign language."

Mamadou Konte is the Apix school leader. He said there is a need for more teacher training and that the education model needs to spread across Senegal.

Difficulties remain for students and families, too.

Koundio is president of the parents' group for the school's deaf and hard of hearing students. She said some of her son's classmates live far away from the school and struggle with the cost of transportation to and from.

Poehlman said government programs like the Carte de l'Égalité provide financial support for families so their children can go to specialized schools. But she spoke of the importance of programs for public schools.

Jandira Monteiro is with Humanity and Inclusion. She said there is a need for Senegal's health and education ministries to work together to create a more complete support system for children with disabilities.

Sall said he feels accepted by the other students. The teachers at Apix speak of his intelligence and his artistic abilities.

His mother wants him to seek success in all that he loves, including art.

She said, "One day, when I'm gone, he'll have enough to support himself."

I'm Caty Weaver. I'm Gregory Stachel.

Andrei Popoviciu reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

colleague – n. a person that you work with, especially in a profession or a business

primary school – n. a school for young children

regardless – adv. without being stopped by difficulty or trouble

opportunity – n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

pose – v. to create a threat or problem that has to be dealt with