In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing dilemma

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Forestry Commission / People - Miri­rai Nsingo

ITS break time, pupils are hav­ing cow­peas, they will have the peas again for lunch with sadza this time and the story goes on for din­ner. Th­ese are pupils liv­ing with dis­abil­ity at a makeshift board­ing school at Mahuwe Pri­mary School, Mbire District in Mashona­land Cen­tral and this is what the school can af­ford from its funds.

Once in months, they have goat meat from the school goat rear­ing project which is just start­ing. The girls at the board­ing school live with a lady teacher whose spare room has been turned into their board­ing house while the boys stay with a male teacher.

The school is strug­gling to cater for the needs of th­ese pupils out­side the class­room yet de­ter­mined to see the in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme work, they have to do with avail­able re­sources and some­times with the help of well-wish­ers, they get food, toi­letries in­clud­ing san­i­tary wear for the girls.

It is not easy, says the head­mas­ter. “We started in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme at this school in 2011 to ac­com­mo­date chil­dren with all forms of dis­abil­i­ties. Given the long dis­tances most of them have to walk ev­ery­day, ac­com­mo­dat­ing them at school was the only op­tion.

“We used to get fund­ing from the Govern­ment but that stopped some years ago and so we use school funds paid by other pupils to sup­port them. Here and there we get donor sup­port but it has been er­ratic hence not enough. We even get sup­port from the com­mu­nity,” says the head­mas­ter, Obert Tembo.

Their plight mir­rors that of sev­eral schools across the coun­try that have adopted the Govern­ment’s In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme that seek to see all chil­dren liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties ac­cess­ing ed­u­ca­tion.

The school head adds that through sup­port from Save The Chil­dren and Leonard Cheshire they have been able to make in­fras­truc­tural adap­ta­tions such as con­struc­tion of ramps and dis­abil­ity friendly toi­lets as they seek to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment at school mak­ing it hab­it­able.

“The adap­ta­tions in­clude the con­struc­tion of ramps, path­ways, dis­abil­ity friendly toi­lets and fur­ni­ture. One of the im­ped­i­ments for suc­cess­ful in­clu­sion of chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties in main­stream classes is the un­avail­abil­ity of as­sis­tive de­vices such as spec­ta­cles, wheelchairs, ar­ti­fi­cial limbs, walk­ing cans and Leonard Cheshire has as­sisted our chil­dren with all th­ese,” adds the head.

An Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer with Save The Chil­dren, Beatrice Gam­biza says the in­for­mal board­ing schools were set up by the Govern­ment for easy man­age­ment and accessibility and the Govern­ment has been pro­vid­ing sup­port grants but th­ese have not been com­ing since 2016.

“We have tabled this with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion as the grants are nec­es­sary in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pro­gramme. In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion has im­pacted pos­i­tively in Mbire District given the fact that chil­dren were out of school due to dis­abil­ity.

“Par­ents have been em­pow­ered and now ac­com­mo­date and bring them to school. Th­ese chil­dren have been screened and given as­sis­tive de­vices rang­ing from wheel chairs, spec­ta­cles and pros­the­sis with some be­ing re­ferred for surg­eries that have been suc­cess­ful.

“I hope the Govern­ment will re­vive the grants with its ab­sence threat­en­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of the pro­gramme,” says Gam­biza.

Project of­fi­cer for Leonard Cheshire Dis­abil­ity Zim­babwe, Martin James says the In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme was the best thing that ever hap­pened to chil­dren liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties in Zim­babwe as most of them could not ac­cess ed­u­ca­tion due to var­i­ous ob­sta­cles.

He how­ever, ad­mits that in­ad­e­quate fund­ing was a threat to the vi­a­bil­ity of the pro­gramme not­ing that chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties en­coun­tered var­i­ous chal­lenges in their life­time, from stigma within the fam­ily, to com­mu­nity and some­times at school.

“So­ci­ety from time im­memo­rial is scep­tic some­thing ‘dif­fer­ent’ and this is no dif­fer­ent when it comes to chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. The neg­a­tive at­ti­tude is even em­bod­ied in our lan­guage and it is such salient neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes to­wards dis­abil­ity that makes par­ents hide them while miss­ing school.

“Most of the chil­dren need sup­port to with­stand glares and stares from an un­for­giv­ing so­ci­ety that re­gards dis­abil­ity as a curse from the gods,” says James.

He fur­ther ar­gues that given the harsh eco­nomic times that we are in, it is even worse for a girl, it can be re­garded by some as a waste of re­sources to ed­u­cate a child liv­ing with dis­abil­ity “who has no hope of get­ting a job one day let alone has a zero chance of find­ing a pros­per­ous muk­washa.”

James says while Spe­cial schools like Jairos Jiri, Emer­ald Hill, King Ge­orge VI are avail­able for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties, the schools can­not take all of the chil­dren as the num­bers have greatly in­creased over the years and they are also out of reach for many due to their ex­pen­sive na­ture hence the in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme was a ne­ces­sity.

“Such schools can­not take all chil­dren liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties as the num­bers have greatly in­creased over the years in pop­u­la­tion while no new schools have been opened apart from th­ese ones to ac­com­mo­date the pupils.

“So the in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme came in handy as it saw more chil­dren be­ing iden­ti­fied in com­mu­ni­ties and I can at­test that the num­bers of chil­dren with dis­abil­ity who have en­rolled in schools have in­creased.

“How­ever, as you saw at Mahuwe Pri­mary School and other schools in the districts, the schools are grap­pling to see the pro­gramme work due to a myr­iad of chal­lenges and more sup­port is needed.”

Teacher and cham­pion for in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion, Ticha Muzavazi also be­lieves in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion was the way to go if all chil­dren liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties are to ac­cess ed­u­ca­tion al­though he is quick to note that the pro­gramme needs full sup­port for it to be a suc­cess.

“In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion is about mak­ing sure that chil­dren or learn­ers with dis­abil­i­ties ac­cess ed­u­ca­tion on an equal ba­sis with oth­ers in the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live. It is pos­si­ble, in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion en­sures aware­ness of dis­abil­ity be­fore peo­ple be­come adults.

“We are not yet there but I see hope for suc­cess from the ini­tia­tives taking place about this time-mid­way to­wards 2022 but I con­tinue to call for more sup­port from the Govern­ment and its part­ners to make this a suc­cess, no one should be left be­hind, ed­u­ca­tion for all.”

Spe­cial (in a wheel­chair) . . . An­other pupil at a school in Mbire district

Pupils en­rolled un­der the In­clu­sive Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gramme at Mahuwe Pri­mary School

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