An underfunded education sector is felt by the remote and most vulnerable in Matabeleland North.
Mosi-oa-Tunya, like most government-run schools in Matabeleland North, has no facilities to cater for children with mental and physical challenges. The result has been many pupils dropping out of school or their parents failing to enrol them even at the Early Childhood Development (ECD) level.
“The schools should symbolise the concept of inclusiveness,” says Roland Sibanda, Mosi-Oa-Tunya High School head. Sibanda was speaking at the Secretary’ Merit Bell event held at the school in Victoria Falls recently, lamenting the government’s failure to invest in infrastructure for disabled and special needs learners at his school.
From the restrooms to classrooms, sports and even teachers, most schools are not providing either of the above. It is the reason why Binga’s Mumuni Siatimbula (10) of Katete Village in Ward 25 under Chief Saba had to drop out of school when she had just begun her ECD journey in Kariyangwe School in 2016.
According to her parents, Mumuni was born visually impaired but could speak, walk and interact with others in general. “She was forced to drop out just two weeks into the school because as a special needs child, we were required to walk her to school, which was over seven kilometres,” says the parents. “It was a long-distance, and even her teacher said she was not trained to teach a blind child, and the school also did not have fit stationery (braille) for her.”
Mumuni’s aim for taking her to school was to make her interact with her age mates. “Our intention in taking her to school was to expose her to other pupils of her age and to probably get her assistance as we believed that her blindness didn’t mean that she was unable to do her school work and, perhaps, become someone better in the future.”
The Siatimbula’s story resonates well with that of Nkayi’s Kwesengulube Primary School dropout learner who was also forced to abort her studies in 2017 after failing to get assistance for her needs. According to her guardian Lawrence Ncube who hails from Mkhanyiso Village under Chief Madliwa, Ethel Mpofu (14), is handicapped and cannot hear properly.
“She is an orphan, and our wish is to get her assistance whereby she can join other children even in Bulawayo and be able to enrol in other fields like athletics as she is a good runner and represent the country under the disabled category,” Lawrence, a bartender based in South Africa says.
“Right now, she is with my grandfather at home, but I am trying to get her some help through donors so that she gets to be assisted with some hearing aid equipment so that she can, at least, communicate with her other peers and family members.”
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Tumisang Thabela, says the challenges faced by the children forced to drop out of school cannot be blamed on the government. She alleges that parents are hindering their disabled children from enrolling in schools, especially in rural areas.
“In the rural areas, one problem you will find is we have to literary go out and search for them, and in some cases, they hide them, but the facilities are available. The major problem is the lack of specialist teachers especially in rural areas where we don’t have as much because we have a very small number of teachers trained to look after them,” she says.
She says her ministry is in the process of finalising a policy of inclusive education in addition to the provision of learning gadgets to several disabled learners. “We are saying no child should be excluded because of their difference in whether disability or language so, the most important thing is to identify where these children are.”
Zimbabwe Teachers Association secretary-general Goodwill Taderera says apart from poor infrastructure, exorbitant fee structures are also to blame for disabled children failing to enrol. The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe is also of the view that the education system in the country is highly discriminatory because of underfunding from the government.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin