Helping students with special needs know their rights

Tuesday October 16 2018

Teaching children about their basic rights has

Teaching children about their basic rights has been acknowledged to be the best way to make them respected by the respective authorities and the general society. PHOTO | KHALIFA SAID 

By By Khalifa Said

When the former deputy minister for education Stella Manyanya paid an official visit to Mtinko Primary School, in Singida earlier last year, neither she nor the school authority knew how she would be ‘confronted’ by deaf students studying at the school.

After holding some conversation with the school authority and being taken around the school compound, it was time for the Nyasa constituency Member of Parliament, now serving as the deputy minister for Industries, Trade and Investment, to bid the students goodbye.

What would be the message, she asked the students, that they would like her to take to their President, John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam?

While other students – those who do not receive special education services – said that they would just wish to have their warm greetings passed to the President, this was not the case for Zainab Maulid and Saumu Mustafa, two among the deaf students studying at the school.

The two brave and intelligent students each presented genuine demands that they would like the welfare of their fellow deaf both at home and those already in school catered for.

One of them explained to the minister that they faced some difficulty studying becuase deaf students of different classes were mixed in one classroom. She wanted this solved so that it can help them learn comfortably. The other student, on the other hand, asked for dormitories to be built at the school compound saying that there were so many deaf students at home who couldn’t come to school to learn because there are not enough infrastructures to accommodate them.

“The eloquence and sharpness with which the girls presented their demands,” narrates Iddi Hashim, a project manager with the Mtinko Education Development Organization (Medo), “touched everyone, the minister was in disbelief.” Medo, a local non-governmental organization in Singida, works in liaison with the Action Aid Tanzania in equipping students with knowledge of their rights and the confidence to demand them.

Both demands were ultimately taken up by the government and it immediately started to work on them in collaboration with the school’s development committee. Four classrooms have already been erected and two dormitories, both for male and female students, have been built with a capacity of taking more than 160 students.

The visit paid by Success to the school showed that the construction is still underway with the headmaster of the school staying optimistic that it will soon be concluded.

Introducing special needs education

Mtinko Primary School was established in 1981, the special needs education to the deaf started to be officially offered in 2010. (Students with other disabilities e.g. blindness and cerebral palsy have been designated to other schools).

However, during that period there was not an expert teacher in that field of education. So the students were integrated in the same classes and taught by the same teachers.

Mr Bernard Muna, a teacher, was brought to the school in July, 2012 to oversee the department of the deaf in educational matters. However, Mr Muna was not equipped with necessary knowledge in the field. “Fortunately,” he says, “in the same year I went for training for one year and I came back to officially start a special needs class [here] in July 2013.”

The school has at the moment Standard I, III and IV classes, with no Standard II. It has a total of ten deaf students and three teachers.

There’s a challenge, however, on the way the communities perceive the issue of education to the students with special needs, like the deaf, with some parents still hiding their deaf children.

Nevertheless, this is slowly changing thanks to the interventions taken by the school like sensitization of the issue among the parents. But Mr Muna says that the main attitude change factor among parents has been the transformation in the lives of those deaf who went to school, especially in the issue of literacy.

“When the parents see that a deaf too can read and write just like other students,” says Mr Muna during an interview at his office, “[then] they are convinced that it matters to educate them. This has motivated some parents to bring their deaf children here.” Of course, this ability to read and write is coupled with the deaf students’ ability to know their rights and the confidence of demanding them.

Critical consciousness

The government remains the sole duty bearer responsible for respecting, protecting and fulfilling education rights in the country. Schools, their governance structures e.g. school management committees and parent/teacher associations, and the education ministry, are the key institutions of the government that can be held accountable for achieving these goals.

However, resources that schools receive are also determined by the finance ministry, donors, international financial institutions and, to some extent, private providers.

Building capacity of students, children, communities and local civil society organizations not only helps advocate for quality education, but amplify more articulately these needs through a longer-term process of promoting critical consciousness.This is what Medo and Action Aid Tanzania has been doing and whose impressive results at the Mkinko Primary School are hard to ignore.

“Had this capacity not been built into [Saumu and Zainab],” admits Mr Muna, “We wouldn’t have these buildings built [at the school.]”

Teaching children their basic rights has been acknowledged to be the best way to make these rights guaranteed and respected by the respective authorities and the general society.

Mr Idd Hashim points out that this imparts into the schoolchildren the confidence of questioning the issues that affect their lives both as students and children from their communities.

The students are also made aware of the appropriate channels and procedures to go through so that they can have their rights provided and guaranteed.

“The education on students’ rights has not only made students aware of their rights,” he adds proudly “but it has also boosted their moral sense as children and increased their capacity to perform in their studies at class.”

Knowing one’s rights

Saumu, 20, thinks that education of one’s basic rights matters because it helps you defend yourself when unjustly treated.

“It was what I came to school for,” offers the third born of a family of three who aspires to be a businesswoman. “I also wanted to able to read and write so that I [can] speak out for my rights in efforts to make them guaranteed and respected,” she adds.

The same is the case for 17-year old Zainab, who aspires to be a teacher. The only thing that troubles her is seeing people like her still staying at home despite the fact that a school that caters for their needs is available.

“Parents need to let their children join the school for that is a step towards a right direction to making them aware of their rights,” she advices.

On challenges

These advantages notwithstanding, it appears that some people are not happy with students knowing their rights.

“We have been receiving criticisms mainly from politicians that the knowledge that the students are imparted with serves as a nuisance to them,” says Mr Elias Mtindi, who is Action Aid Tanzania Regional Manager for Dodoma and Singida regions.

“But we normally retort that that is good and in fact that is exactly what we want so that [the politicians] can perform their responsibilities rightfully.”

Mr Hashim says that they have even been labeled “members of the opposition” by telling students the importance of questioning the government’s expenditures.