Refugee Children with Communication Disability in Rwanda: Providing the Educational Services They Need

Helen Barrett, Julie Marshall and Juliet Goldbar

Forced Migration Review, Issue 60, March 2019


‘Communication disability’ (CD) refers to the barriers to participation in society experienced by people who have difficulties understanding what others are trying to communicate to them or being understood when they try to communicate with others. Education and early childhood development (ECD) services for refugee children from the DRC and Burundi are well established in Rwanda, however children with disabilities, in particular those with less visible intellectual or communication impairments, are often excluded from the education system from an early age. Research suggests that 15 percent of any population is likely to have a disability and the prevalence among refugees may even be higher. However, analysis of UNHCR’s registration data found that only 0.01 percent of refugees in Rwanda are recorded as experiencing a ‘speech disability/impairment’ and only 10 out of almost 55,000 refugee children under 12 in Rwanda are registered as having a special educational need. The authors are undertaking research in refugee camps in Rwanda to identify why CD is under-identified, the needs and wishes of carers of refugee children with CD, and the barriers to securing identification of needs and access to services for the children. Initial analysis suggests that CD is widely misunderstood, and narrowly defined as a speech impairment/disability and hearing impairment. As the needs of many children who experience CD are not even identified, it is unsurprising that their needs in an educational environment are largely unmet. Despite mounting evidence that inclusive education is cost-effective and results in better educational and social outcomes for some children with disabilities and their peers, a number of children with mild/moderate intellectual impairment and associated CD, and children with hearing impairment, have been sent to residential special schools/centers outside the camps.