According to UNICEF (2011)’s Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) research report, an estimated six million people are living with albinism in Nigeria, 40% of whom are children. Photo Credit: iStock
Albinism is a genetic condition characterized by a lack of pigmentation (color) in the skin, hair, and eyes.
This condition develops when the body is unable to create the typical quantity of melanin – the pigment that determines the colour of these tissues.
People with Albinism are found in every society, and the internationally accepted common term used for persons affected by albinism is “Persons with Albinism” (PWAs).
There are several types of albinism. The severity of the condition can vary.
The most common form is called oculocutaneous albinism (OCA), which affects the eyes, skin, and hair.
Experiences of PWAs at school
Joy Ohime, a Mass Communications student at the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa state, said her poor vision has always been a barrier to her education, complaining that she has had to rely on a friend for class notes because of her inability to see or read from the chalkboard.
“Sometimes, my friend has to dictate from her book for me to write,” Ms Ohime explained.
We don’t have learning facilities for albinism in schools, some students even try to make fun when you say you can’t see properly, our skin is another issue. Government needs to weigh in to help us cope like other students. Providing us with glasses and other learning materials.
She dwelt more on her childhood, which she described as “challenging” due to the stigma she experiences for being a PWAs. “Because of my skin, I’ve been made fun of and even called “bad luck”,” she reminisced.
Another student, Ronald Maigwa, said visibility remained a major challenge for him, a situation made worse by the inability of his indigent parents to help him manage his limitation.
I want government to assist us, I have friends who are also albinos. In school, I am being discriminated it makes me feel really bad. My classmates don’t get me involved when a task is given.
The story is no different with John Frank, who did not mince words in recounting his experiences. “Growing up with albinism is not a small challenge; it’s difficult to cope. I am being mocked in school, resulting to low self-esteem for some of us with albinism. Some even stop coming to school without telling their parents the reason.”
He called on government to look into the situation in primary and secondary schools, where he insisted the most discrimination against children with albinism occurs.
He called out on policy makers, to assist children with albinism to enable them learn and attain their potentials in life”.
Nigeria’s National Policy on Albinism
In 2019, a review of Nigeria’s National Policy on Albinism was conducted in order to address new problems-cum-difficulties the albino population was experiencing.
One such policy objective is achieving 70% improvement in the learning conditions of PWAs in educational and other development institutions by 2025, in line with the following principles:
- Establishment of more inclusive schools and equipping them with visual and other learning aids for PWAs across the Federation;
- Teachers and students shall be provided with counselling services on the need to exempt PWAs from outdoor activities/corporal punishment under scorching sun;
- Stakeholders at all levels of education shall replace blackboards with modern instructional materials such as white boards, interactive boards, projectors, computers, and web resources ;
- PWAs should sit in front rows in class, provided with note taker, recorder and photocopied materials in bold prints should be encouraged.
The existing blueprint has done little to address the learning difficulties experienced by PWAs. As such, children with albinism have continually been discriminated against.
Most families and communities in Nigeria are unable to send their children to school because of the pervasive misinformation about albinism. Incidentally, PWAs frequently experience peer bullying. Consequently, they suffer from a lack of assertiveness and self-confidence.
Also, some students with albinism are known to have left school altogether Due to the attendant frustration posed by their poor vision.
The way forward
A nation’s progress is driven by education, all the more reason why learning should be inclusive of every person, regardless of their circumstance or condition.
In that wise, every child does have a fundamental right to be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Cynthia Ukachi, who works with the Network for Women With Disabilities, has called for “effective implementation” of the policy “domiciled in the Ministry of Education” that requires schools to “help address” the plight of children with albinism in the learning environment.
She suggested that schoolteachers be trained on how to handle children with albinism, saying such teachers would be better equipped and “will even go an extra mile to give their notes to (PWAs) students after classes, rather than the students borrowing notes from their mates, which often contain errors”.
Mrs Ukachi also suggested that schools should create a more conducive sitting arrangement in classrooms to enable PWAs, with their attendant problem of low vision, sit in the front row.
“Even if they are seated on the front row, the teacher should teach in a way they would comprehend in a subject like Mathematics”
This report by Hadiza Abdulrahman, is part of the requirement for the Disability and inclusion in the Media Fellowship, 2023. supported by the Africa Foundation For Young Media Professionals.