Children with disabilities ‘are ignored by State’

Friday, November 18th, 2022 06:00 | By
Children with disabilities ‘are ignored by State’
PS University Education and Research, Simoni Nabukwesi (left), with Fred Haga, the Director of Special Needs in the Ministry of Education, during the official opening of UBUNTU Conference at KISE in Nairobi yesterday. PD/GERALD ITHANA

A million children with special needs in public schools are not properly catered for.

The children from both primary and secondary schools are mostly left out of formal planning by the government.

Director for Special Needs Education at the Ministry of Education Fred Haga estimated the number to be at around 300,000 but noted that this was a conservative figure as no recent survey has been done to ascertain the actual population.

He was speaking during the opening of a three-day conference for children with special needs.

Stakeholders attending the conference at the Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) echoed his sentiments, saying most of those children are hidden from the public due to the stigma involved.

Planned joint survey

“The little data with us, for both levels of education, primary and secondary, is conventionally around 300,000. Why do we lack data? because identification of disability is a complex undertaking and no recent survey has been done,” he told journalists.

He was hesitant to add that there lacks a complete set of data on how many children with special needs are in the country.

“That’s why in the planned joint survey with KISE, we will be able to establish the exact number of children with disabilities that we have as a country,” he said.

However, by estimation, Haga pointed out that there are around 2 million who have disabilities in the education system.

Among the challenges these children face, he said, was a lack of interest from their teachers to teach.

The lack of interest, he added, was noticeable even among their parents and guardians, who feel the children have no need for education and end up hiding their children from the public to avoid stigmatisation.

“We have a problem with some parents who are not playing their parental roles as required, and that’s why the Ministry and its agencies are advising the parents to actively take part in helping the government to identify such disabilities in order to enable us to recognise that even such cases have rights to be catered for,” he said.

Another challenge identified is that the Education Sector Policy for Learners and Trainees with disabilities only recognises 11 different categories of persons with disabilities and conditions. And the Ministry supports all those who are recognised and documented in that policy.

Barrier free environment

The educational policy guidelines mandate that all learning institutions adopt; design and embrace programs that are conducive to learners with disabilities. In spite of inclusive education policy guidelines, disability remains a major course of discrimination in Kenyan schools.

According to Eva Naputuni, Africa Special Needs network chair, it is important for the government and all handlers of children with special needs to adhere to the inclusive education policy, which requires that schools provide special education services such as an establishment of a safe and barrier-free environment.

She also noted that places of learning must also have learner-friendly buildings, modified furniture and equipment for learners with special needs and disabilities.

“Successful implementation of an inclusive education policy advocates for the creation of awareness in schools, so as to understand their own prevailing challenges, assets and resources necessary for transformation,” she said, asserting that this is all what Ubuntu is all about because it means inclusive, togetherness for a course, and it is a community philosophy.

The conference is organised around Ubuntu, calling on adoption of an all-inclusive philosophy, where in this case, no child is left behind.

“Our goal is to start talking about inclusive education and find ways together as a collaboration on how we can make it successful in Kenya,” she added.

Africa Special Needs Network in collaboration with the KISE, the Ministry of Education (MOE), and the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) are jointly hosting the conference.

Delay in implementation

“It is a collaboration of different institutions that work with children with special needs,” she said.

University Education and Research Principal Secretary, Amb Simon Nabukwesi, said the laws in the sector are well thought out, but the shortfall comes in when it comes to implementation.

He said the delay in implementing important pieces of legislation is what’s hampering the process of inclusive education in learning institutions, where life continues as if it is business as usual, while learners with special needs continue to lag behind.

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