Exploring Factors influencing the educational progression and completion rates of learners with albinism in Four Selected Provinces of Zambia

By Velaphi Mamba | May 29th, 2017

Albinism is a common form of skin disability that is prevalent in many, if not all, African countries as well as globally. This is true for the case of Zambia in Southern Africa. The Albino Association of Zambia estimates that Zambia has about 25,000 persons with albinism. The majority of the persons with albinism are youths below the age of 30 years. According to the United Nations’ Independent Expert on albinism, more than 80% of the persons with albinism live in abject poverty; endure exclusion and discrimination of all kinds and consequently their education is compromised and most of them do not complete their general education. Failure to successfully complete the general education means that persons with albinism cannot enter the labour market – they cannot enjoy independent lives and miss out on the socio-economic and other benefits afforded by quality education. Persons with Albinism have also faced serious threats to their lives as they are often hunted and killed for ritual purposes, especially in some African settings. This makes them a very vulnerable group who need urgent attention and protection of their rights to life and education. In view of the above, I, through the support of the Open Society Foundations (OSF), undertook a study which sought to investigate factors that influence the progression and completion rates of learners with albinism in Zambia.

This research used a mixed method approach to the collection of data. However, 70% of the information was collected through qualitative approaches. These approaches included face to face interviews and focus group discussions. Questionnaires were used to collect data from teachers, learners without albinism and some learners with albinism. A total sample of 118 respondents and 12 schools participated in the research, which provide insights into the research question at hand.

Findings emerging from the twelve sampled schools, through school administrators, indicated that there were 145 learners with albinism. The majority (142 out of 145) of these learners were in special schools for the blind. This means, only three were found in the mainstream schools. There were several reasons explaining why there were more learners with albinism in special schools than in mainstream schools.

Among the many reasons given by the learners with albinism for this disparity were: 63% explained that they never received attention from their teachers and administrators in ordinary schools; 80% presented that they were stigmatized, bullied and isolated by other pupils, teachers and the general community; and, 76% indicated that their schools were too far in terms of distance thus resulting in tem being scotched by the sun hence making their skin susceptible to sores.

In terms of factors that influence progression and completion rates of learners with Albinism in schools, the teacher respondents explained and highlighted the fact that most learners with albinism were above average in terms of performance in classes. However, only about 10% of them manage to complete their twelfth grade, pointing to serious shortcomings within the education system. These are characterized by five key factors: 1) Examination impediments: learners with albinism in special schools use large print to learn. However, during their examinations the majority of them are required to use braille. This creates a challenge. Unfortunately, every year, the Examination Council of Zambia loses braille scripts for most blind learners. This phenomenon has been difficult to explain by Examination Council of Zambia; 2) Distance to schools as an impediment: most schools are far apart from each other. Learners with albinism cannot walk to long distances to schools (owing to safety and exposure to weather elements concerns) and opt for boarding schools, which are expensive and parents cannot easily raise resources to support these children; 3) The economic benefits by parents on children with albinism: most parents or guardians benefit economically from children with albinism. For example, water in which a person with albinism bathes is perceived and used as potent to catch more fish in regions where they have a lot of fishing taking place. This water is sold by parents and helps the parents to earn a living; 4) Inadequate reasonable accommodation for learners with albinism in mainstream schools: most schools do not provide for the specific needs of learners with albinism; and; 5) Poverty levels: most parents also indicated that they were basically poor. Therefore, they could not afford to take their children with albinism to school.

Notwithstanding the serious issues above, the study revealed that there were no specific measures that sought to address the educational needs of learners with albinism in terms of access to education, security, retention and survival within the system. Conclusions from the study are reflecting that it is evident that there are several cultural forces deeply rooted within the communities where individuals with albinism are found. These cultural influences have direct effects on the education of the learners. It requires radical decisions to change the current status quo of learners with albinism. Three major recommendations need to be prioritized:

  1. Need to educate educationists in order to raise awareness on the needs of learners with albinism.
  2. Need for government to develop specific policies and legislation targeting individuals with albinism.
  3. Need to conduct massive sensitization of the parents to learners with albinism and their communities.

 

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