Children with Disabilities Thrive Through Distance Learning in IraqPublished: Mar 12, 2021 Reading time: 4 minutes
When schools closed in Iraq last Spring, People in Need (PIN) helped support students and teachers make the move to at-home learning. This came with a number of challenges that every family with children needed to adapt to. But for families caring for children with disabilities, extra attention is always needed. Thanks to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund to transform the delivery of education in emergencies and protracted crises, PIN’s distance learning activities now reach 100 children in need of specific assistance in addition to a total of 5000 children benefiting from education support.
With schools across Iraq only partially open due to COVID-19 restrictions, students attend in-person classes part-time and online classes part-time. PIN is supporting 250 vulnerable children, meaning mainly those living in remote locations, with sim cards and internet access so they can continue their learning safely at home. Out of these 250, 100 children with disabilities are targeted to avoid the higher risk of dropping out.
PIN is delivering this aid through the ECW-funded project, “Increasing equal education opportunities to children in Hawija,” in cooperation with the education cluster in Iraq – a group of civil society partners working together to deliver an emergency response.
“She has to be treated differently from the rest of her brothers because she needs more care and attention,” Nadhem, 36, speaks of her daughter who has Myopia. “It has taught me patience.”
Her daughter, Hala, is aged 13 and in intermediate school. Before COVID-19, she went to in-person classes as normal, but struggled with reading lessons written on the white board since she must wear a patch over her eyes for multiple hours throughout the day to protect them from air and bright lights. “[My friends] understand my condition and they always try to help me,” she tells PIN.
“At first, I thought I was going to lose school,” Hala explains her initial anxieties when the school lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions began. “But as soon as the school turned to e-lessons, I felt that things were getting better and I started to reconnect with friends and my learning.”
Distance learning has proven to be somewhat beneficial for her, living with a visual disability. “It's certainly easier due to school being far from my house,” says Hala, who would have to walk 3 kilometres to school each day. “I would suffer on the road to school with the difficulty in seeing that I have, which is causing me a lot of trouble.”
She continues, “My father would take me on his motorcycle to school sometimes when it's raining or cold, even though I'm afraid to ride it, I have to ride it to get to school.”
However, as for many students in Iraq, Hala does not have her own mobile phone and relies on her father to take necessary lessons and to enter class chatrooms from his device. Her remote location creates the added difficulty of accessing consistent internet connection.
PIN is providing Hala with a sim card and phone credit with internet access so she can access online resources and have direct communication with her teacher and classmates.
“COVID-19 is not a good thing and I hope that this period will end as soon as possible so that we can go out and play and my father can go to work,” Hala says, who takes her education very seriously. When she grows up, she wants to be an Ophthalmologist so she can help other people with eye disorders.
Receiving distance learning materials and extra support from PIN has helped make sure “my children didn’t drop out of school,” explains Ibrahim, 53. Father of 14-year-old Yassin, who lives with muscle atrophy in his left arm, Ibrahim says he has seen the state of Yassin’s well-being change for the better once he began at-home learning. “My psychological state is affected by his,” Ibrahim emphasizes.
Similar to Hala, Yassin has found some positive elements to distance learning while living with a physical disability. “I think it’s a good thing that I can learn from my home as I faced a lot of problems on the road to school.” Carrying his book bag the 1.5 kilometre distance to school and back was often troublesome, and he didn’t like depending on his friends’ assistance all the time.
“Yes, it is easier,” Yassin says of distance learning, “but we still have bad network.” He also wishes he had his own mobile phone to do his work easier. PIN is supporting Yassin with a sim card and internet so he can continue his education safely at home and online using his father’s phone.
“All people in our village are good, understanding people,” Ibrahim points out, adding, “they treat him kindly.” Yassin also highlights that, “having a disability makes you special,” and his particular situation doesn’t impact his ability to play his favorite game: Football.