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Education for Learners With Special Needs

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Introduction

Learners with special needs include those with different kinds of disabilities, slow learners and those who are exceptionally gifted. 'Education for All' requires that everybody has access to education so as to speed up development in the society. It therefore also calls for education programmes which provide quality education to children with special needs thus giving them more confidence and better control of their environment. Within the population of children with special needs, there are talents and skills which if promoted may contribute in a significant way to the national development. In line with EFA goals, the Salamanca statement and frame-work of action on special needs education call for the promotion of inclusive education approach to enable schools to serve all children particularly those with special needs.

Current Situation

The nature and extent of disability among school going children has not been fully documented. However, impairment of hearing, speech and sight are the most common known disabilities. In 2004, there were only five primary schools that had classes for children with special education needs. Total enrolment in these classes was a little over 2000. This is only a small proportion of children with special education needs. However, this number does not include those who are slow learners and exceptionally gifted.

Mainstreaming children with disabilities into regular schools faces some social and cultural impediments. Among them is the perception among some parents and teachers that the presence of a disabled child will disrupt the smooth functioning of classrooms and that schools and classrooms themselves are not adequately equipped to meet the special mobility and equipment and other requirements of disabled children.

Strengths

  • Recent introduction of inclusive education curriculum in teacher training.
  • The existence of NGOs which are actively advocating rights of people with disabilities.
  • The existence of close collaboration between the Ministry and the associations of persons with disabilities.
  • Development partners are showing an unwavering support to education programmes for children with special needs.

Weaknesses

  • Most of the schools are not accessible to children with disabilities.
  • A lack of clear understanding of the specific needs of children with special education needs.
  • Shortage of qualified teachers to deal with children with special education needs.
  • Inclusive education has so far not successfully been implemented.
  • Inadequate funding and lack of special teaching/learning materials and equipment.
  • Provision of education for children with special needs is mostly concentrated in urban areas.
  • Lack of regular clinical support.
  • There is no systematic approach for early identification and assessment of highly gifted children, slow learners and the disabled.
  • Low community awareness about the importance of education for children with special needs.
  • Lack of some specific instructional programmes for example sign language for hearing impaired children.

Policy Statements

  • Inclusive education shall be promoted to ensure that children with special needs get equal opportunities, barriers to learning are addressed and the diverse range of learning needs are accommodated.
  • Slow learners and highly gifted children shall be identified and be given opportunities to learn at their own pace.
  • Children with disabilities and others with special needs shall, to the greatest extent possible, be able to attend a local school where they will receive quality education along side their peer without disabilities/special needs.

Strategies

  • Identifying children with special needs at an early age and assessing their education and health needs.
  • Expanding and strengthening education for children with special needs.
  • Creating mechanisms for facilitating involvement and participation of people with disabilities in matters affecting their lives.
  • Establishing special centres for children with severe forms of disability.
  • Establishing multifunctional resource centres for teachers.
  • Advocating vigorously education as a human right for children with special needs.
  • Mainstreaming special needs education in teachers' professional development programmes.
  • Designing special programmes for slow learners and highly gifted children.
  • Establishing referral services.
  • Providing employment opportunities for children with special needs.
  • Establishing strong links and partnership with the Association for the Disabled, the Ministry responsible for Youth, Employment, Women and Children Development, the Ministry responsible for health, development partners and the community at large.