EDUCATION:How Kenya is embracing integrated schooling for the disabled.

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By Tish Ouma

FOR centuries, children with special needs and disabilities in Africa have been segregated, abandoned and others unable to seek basic education, a human right due to their medical condition.

Some societies still term them as bad omens, with some parents hiding or chaining their children with different disabilities to avoid ‘embarrassment’.

However, the Kenyan government is trying to change the historical injustice by making sure children with special needs and disabilities are integrated with other learners in regular public schools to enhance their skills, learning and ‘possibly’ end stigma.

This development has seen more public schools in Kenya embrace learners with special needs and disabilities following in the path of developed countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Australia where children with disabilities are integrated in regular classes.

Kenya has a total of 284 000 children aged between six and 17 years living with disabilities who are out of school.

Director of Basic Education at the Ministry of Education, Abdi Habat said Kenya has segregated schools catering for different special needs including the deaf, physically handicapped, those with autism and visually impaired.  

But the Ministry of Education wants children with special needs and disabilities to attend regular schools in order to end stigmatization and encourage inclusivity.

“We need to increase the numbers of learners with special needs in schools. The pupils and other students should access education like all Kenyans that is why we are rooting for integrated learning,” insisted Mr Habat.

On her part, Kakuu Kimando, a Special Needs Coordinator at the Ministry of Education urged principals to allow children with special needs to study in their secondary schools.

“Through the internet, I can read the daily news,” she asserts.

The high school students and their visually impaired teachers have equally benefited from the computer lab.

“The learners are always introduced into computer programming whereby their main objectives is to come up with accessible web pages and mobile applications. They have developed an outstanding and impressive website using the Chichimel coding system,” said Geobert Athuo, a specialist in charge of Likoni project.  

Likoni’s principal, Elizabeth Ngare, buttressed that embracing technology has improved their students’ performance.

Teachers in the school have also installed gadgets in the computer lab to make sure their students only access educational materials.

inABLE Chief Executive, Irene Kirika said the programme has empowered the blind and visually impaired students.

“We want to connect them to the rest of the world so that they just don’t use braille. It is a technology compliment braille,” she said.

According to the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, 15 per cent of the Kenyan population (40 million) comprises of people living with disabilities including blindness.

In Kenya, persons with disabilities are exempted from paying taxes.

The government is now trying to make sure the country’s population embraces technology.  

“Parents should not hide their children with different disabilities, locking and chaining them is inhumane” Jane Wanjiru, a parent with an autism child said.

But parents with children born with special needs defended the move to hide them claiming stigmatisation is still rife.

“Finding appropriate schools for them is hard that is why we opt to leave them at home without going through hassles they may face out in the public. For instance my 12 year old son who has cerebral palsy requires a special mode of transport to school and that is limited,” Paula Juma said.