Catering for disabled students needs
By Charity Ruzvidzo
HARARE – The Zimbabwean government is taking measures to ensure students with disabilities are able to write their examinations under the new education curriculum, an official has said.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education recently introduced a curriculum that is premised on developing a more competent student who is able to embrace the evolving economic developments.
Since its introduction, there has been speculation that students with disabilities will not be able to access the relevant material to necessitate their learning process and write their examinations.
Speaking at a People with Disabilities Networking meeting held in Harare recently, Edward Mandeya, a material production officer in Braille at the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, said they were translating the developed 105 new syllabuses into Braille.
“From infant level and Form One up to Six we introduced 105 syllabuses and these are to be translated into Braille in order to accommodate students who are visually impaired. We are doing this to ease their learning process especially when they are about to write examinations,” he said.
Mandeya said there were also conducting workshops to educate teachers on how to accommodate students with disabilities during examination periods.
“We have had various cases were teachers do not know how to properly deal with a student with disability during examination times. For instance, others with partial visual impairment might require a big font on their papers. It is the teacher’s duty to ensure they cater for these needs,” he said.
Mandeya highlighted that government also deployed teachers to cater for disabled students in the rural areas.
“We are trying to cater for all disabled people regardless of location. Every district has teachers who are aimed at ensuring that special students needs are identified and taken care of before and on the day of examination,” he said.
Also speaking at the meeting, Wonderful Mahubo, who is the material developer at the sign language sector in the education ministry, said a proposal was set in place for universal sign language education for students in Zimbabwe.
“We have drafted a proposal to have a new sign language syllabus under the new curriculum which will allow every student to learn sign language. We are also proposing for a new sign language dictionary which will be used in the country,” said Mahubo. He said the project will require funding for it to be fruitful. “This is going to be a very big project that will require a lot of consultations and funding. We are engaging those who can assist to come on board,” said Mahubo.
Apart from these developments, the government also set up a special needs education department that focuses on acquiring learning material for disabled children to ensure they are incorporated into the mainstream education system.
The permanent secretary in the education ministry, Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango, is on record saying since the introduction of the new curriculum there has been an increase in the number of students living with disabilities sitting for Ordinary Level examinations.
She said government has also included science and mathematics in their prescribed learning material which were previously not included.
Zimbabwe is the powerhouse of education as witnessed by the high level of literacy in the country. The new curriculum is expected to boost the levels and create a globally competitive citizen.
The curriculum also has an oriented system, where learning areas that instill national values such as self-reliance, business culture, responsible citizenship, critical global awareness, environmental stewardship, inclusiveness and tolerance.
According to the coordinator of the people living with disabilities, Samantha Sibanda, it is their aim to empower parents that have children living with disabilities.
“Sometimes parents that have children living with disabilities are deprived of certain rights as they are not aware that they can get assistance especially from the Ministry of Education. We have these meetings to empower them so that they can also empower their children,” she said.
Sibanda said government must include sign language education from infantry school.
“Children must be taught sign language at an early age, this will help them to grasp the language earlier and ease communication. We also encourage the Ministry of Education to have consultation meetings for parents with students living with disabilities so that they can understand some of the challenges they face,” she said.
Some of the challenges currently faced by persons with disabilities include accessibility of infrastructure, employment and housing opportunities, communication and involvement in decision making processes amongst others.
At least 10 percent of the total population in Zimbabwe consists of people with various disabilities, while the general estimates put the unemployment rate of the disabled community at not less than 90 percent.
People living with disabilities activists say it is every child’s right to access education and that includes disabled children.
They advocate for access to health, education and shelter among other fundamental rights for children living with disabilities.