Disability and illiteracy: How to deal with these twin problems in adults

Riyana Shaibu, 27, from Wisiki Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kapeni in Blantyre, Southern part of Malawi has partial visual impairment. She is a Standard 4 school dropout and eventually became pregnant. She was married at 19 making it impossible for her to continue with school. She says her education inadequacy resulted into her exclusion from community activities which required people who could read and write.

Kalima: Tailoring skills will help the participants to earn a living after graduation.

DVV International handing over a classroom block to FDYD as part of the Inclusive Integrated Adult Education.

Southern part of Malawi has partial visual impairment. She is a Standard 4 school dropout and eventually became pregnant. She was married at 19 making it impossible for her to continue with school. She says her education inadequacy resulted into her exclusion from community activities which required people who could read and write.

“Even in counting, I was far much behind as such people could steal money from me when making transactions because of my failure to do simple mathematics,” says Riyana.

She adds that her failure to read and write also limited her from some opportunities.

“A well-wisher, wanted to employ me but failed because the job required someone with reading and numeracy skills,” she adds.

Just like Riyana, Patrick Luciano, 23, from Group Village Head Maganga also in T/A Kapeni in Blantyre, who is epileptic and has speech impairment has always had challenges when it comes to learning.

“I have always had problems with reading, writing and figures not to talk of grasping daily issues making headlines.

“This made it hard for people in our community to trust me with responsibilities that require knowledge on different aspects,” laments Patrick.

However, things changed for Riyana and Patrick when a chance to enroll at a Community Learning Centre under Forum for the Development of Youth with Disabilities (FDYD) at Namiyango, Blantyre arose.

Executive Director for FDYD, Rex Tikondane Kalima says they started enrolling youths with disabilities at the centre under the Integrated Inclusive Adult Education (IIAE) project being piloted by DVV International where the youth are taught reading, writing and numeracy skills.

“As the name suggests, it is an inclusive project where we blend the youth with disabilities together with those without any disability. The first cohort was enrolled in 2020 with 52 people and currently the second cohort has 77 people.

“We noted that most of the centres that offer adult literacy classes in the country do not have a component of inclusiveness where people with various disabilities can enroll and learn together with their fellows,” explains Kalima.

Kalima adds that after class work, they also offer tailoring skills to the youth to ensure that they also have a skill that can help them to earn a living and sustain their day-to-day lives.

FDYD Project Officer, Lonjezo Nankalazi attests to the fact that teaching people with various disabilities of different severity is not an easy feat.

“Some of the common disabilities at the centre in the adult literacy class are people with intellectual disability, Down Syndrome, deaf, epilepsy, visual impairment (blind) and various levels of physical disability.

“In fact, disabilities come in different forms and severity so there is always need for individualized learning within the class for persons with disability. Fortunately, the facilitators that teach them are people who have worked in the disability field for a long time and have experience and expertise to work with them within the classroom.

“Sometimes the work becomes overwhelming when the disability is severe because this means that the progress is slow and when you are working on a deadline, it can be hard to show actual progress,” she states.

Nonetheless, Nankalazi points that the beauty of it all is that persons with disabilities that enroll at the centre usually finish together with their friends without dropping out unlike those without disabilities.

“For example, for the class of 2021, we enrolled seven persons with disabilities and only one dropped out. This year, we have 25 people with various disabilities and all of them are still going strong and hopefully will complete with their friends in March,” says Nankalazi.

Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) spokesperson, Harriet Kachimanga says the development of a literate nation is considered crucial to the sustainability of development; hence, the need for collective effort to achieve this without leaving persons with disabilities behind.

“Just like any other person, if persons with disabilities are left out in adult literacy programmes, it means a particular section of people in the country are being left out. This can hinder the trajectory of development.

“In addition, persons with disabilities who do not know how to write, read and do simple calculations face so many challenges including accessing health and information services. 

“Besides, income generation is difficult for them as they cannot manage their businesses well or research through reading on innovative ideas or best ways of sustaining their businesses,” says Kachimanga.

Community Development Officer for Blantyre District, Joseph Gama applauds the aspect of integration and inclusiveness in adult education that DVV International has come up with, saying the move is a milestone in as far as ending discrimination that exists towards persons with disabilities is concerned.

“In this concept, the people learn together as such they blend well with others; thereby, removing discrimination as well as boosting the self-esteem as they know that whatever their fellows learn, they too, can do it much better.

“Over and above, learners get to acquire skills like tailoring which empowers them and in the end improve their household incomes,” says Gama.

Gama adds that the syllabus also include topics on health, hygiene, sanitation, agriculture and financial literacy which deepens their knowledge beyond reading, writing and numeracy.

“If you see the content of the curriculum, you’ll appreciate that it has incorporated a lot of issues. For instance, even now when the nation is facing cholera outbreak, you could see those who enrolled in adult literacy classes, know about all the preventive measures since all these are taught,” adds Gama.

DVV International Regional Director for Southern Africa, Gerhard Quincke, believes learning is a continuous process and it should never end, noting: “Just because someone did not attend formal education should not stop them from attaining adult literacy education as well as other skills.”

“Therefore, together with government and the Ministry of Gender, we are also piloting the IIAE Project in some community learning centres in Ntchisi and Dowa Districts in the Central Region of Malawi.

“The plan is that every district and every village should have such community learning centres to cater for the needs of the population,” says Quincke.

It is against this backdrop, therefore, that Kachimanga urges all those offering special needs education to ensure that learning materials are in accessible formats such as tactile audios, braille and large print for those with visual impairment.

“For the country to increase coverage of adult literacy education among persons with disabilities just like Riyana and Patrick have done, we just have to do the right things by making available teaching and learning materials for persons with disabilities,” she points out.


(This article was authored by the Malawi News Agency (MANA) and first published by Malawi Voice and Times Group. Additional reporting by DVV International)



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