Last Thursday, a report titled ‘Examination of Learning and Participation of Visually Impaired Students in Inclusive Schools’ was luanched by HakiElimu. The research conducted at the end of 2017 is part of the organisation’s strategy to push for improved inclusive learning and teaching environment in schools.
Education stakeholders met at the Julius Nyerere Conventional Centre in Dar es Salaam during the launch. The findings aimed at establishing if inclusive schools in Tanzania have required settings to accommodate children with special needs and whether education policies and programmes respond to diverse needs of learners during teaching and learning. Presenting the findings, Dr Luca Mkonongwa from Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE) said the study was conducted in public primary and secondary schools with visually impaired learners.
According to Dr Mkonongwa, 81 per cent of teachers believed that the learning and teaching environment in most public schools were friendly for visually impaired learners because they were able to easily move around within the school compound.
“Unlike teachers, the interviewed visually impaired learners were not satisfied with their learning environment. Some of them raised their concern regarding the physical conditions of the schools. They complained about rough pathways, lack of school fence, poor toilets and long distance from the hostels to the classrooms,” he says.
He says 66 per cent of teachers who were asked if the classroom arrangement was suitable for visually impaired learners revealed that they were unsatisfied with the class arrangement while 34 per cent believed the arrangement was suitable.
According to Mr John Kalage, the Executive Director of HakiElimu, the research was conducted by HakiElimu in collaboration with DUCE to advocate for improved inclusive learning and teaching environment in schools.
Adding to that he says, the study was conducted in nine regions namely Dodoma, Iringa, Lindi, Morogoro, Mwanza, Ruvuma, Shinyanga, Tabora and Tanga. Teachers, pupils, students, parents and other education stakeholders participated in the study.
“I hope the findings of this report will give a clear picture on the topic as a nation as far as inclusive education is concerned. I also hope that the suggestions given will be taken into consideration to make sure we work on the challenges,” Mr Kalage said.
Mr Kalage mentioned the challenges as shortage of teaching and learning materials for visually impaired learners, inadequate funding for inclusive schools, limited access to various places within the schools due to unfriendly infrastructure.
Adding to that he says, poor quality teaching and learning material particularly books, shortage of qualified and competent teachers, stigma from some teachers and sighted learners and late identification of visually impaired children.
Adrian Lukindo is a primary teacher at Kimanga Primary school. Commenting on the study he says, he has not been able to go through the report since it was just released however the challenges mentioned in the report are the ones they face in their work life.
He says, he has been working as a teacher for the past seven years. Supply of learning materials for normal pupils has always been a problem thus children with special needs are forgotten in the process.
“A lot of challenges are happening in our education system. The national strategy for inclusive education for all to provide quality education has a long way to go. Learning environment are not friendly enough to support the education for all goal. Enough funds should be given to schools to make sure the strategy is reached,” says Mr Lukindo.
Asked how much he knows about inclusive education he says he only knows that children with special needs should be mixed with normal children. Mariam Omary is a form III student at Jangwani Secondary School. She also attended the launch. Sharing her experience on the matter she says, being together in the same classroom with visually impaired classmates make them learn how to deal with people living with disabilities.
She says, there is no way you can have such a student around you and fail to support them in anything. She believes working together makes them feel at ease and perform better than normal students.
“At my school, we have students with special needs but not exactly visually impaired. We help them whenever needed and they can make good friends compared to students with no disability,’ she says.
The report gave a number of recommendations which include: In service training programmes for primary and secondary teachers should be established to equip teachers with knowledge and skills required to teach in inclusive classrooms.
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should make some aspects of special education such as sign language and Braille writing compulsory for all trainee teachers.
The teaching and learning materials especially those used by visually impaired learners should be well designed.
The teacher-student ratio in inclusive classrooms should be minimised to give opportunity for teachers to have more time to facilitate students learning. The Government should increase the number of inclusive schools.
“Since inclusive learning environment requires special facilities for supporting children with various challenges including visually impaired learners, the government should allocate adequate funds to these schools,” reads part of the report.
School environment especially pathways, lavatories, classrooms, dormitories and playgrounds should be regularly inspected in order to remove all potential barriers for visually impaired learners.
The report shows that, inclusive schools should ensure that children with different challenges such as visually impaired learners are given opportunity to participate in outdoor activities of their choice including, art, sports and games.
Teachers of inclusive classrooms should employ different forms of assessment approaches so as to give equal opportunities for all children to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.
Visually impaired learners in inclusive learning environment require special treatment during examinations. This includes giving them more time during exams or tests.
Inclusive schools should ensure proper storage of machines used by visually impaired learners. Schools should keep proper records regarding enrolment of students particularly Visually impaired children.
The parents/guardians should regularly visit their visually impaired children to understand their problems which they cannot easily disclose to teachers. In addition, regular visits by parents make children feel valued and encourages or motivates them to continue with studies.