Special need: Deafblindness most costly form of disability in schools

Mary Kwamboka and Samuel Mwangi, Senior One teachers during a lesson with children at Kilimani Primary deafblind unit. [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]
At 11am, four teachers at Nairobi's Kilimani Integrated Primary School are taking four children through Physical Education lessons in one corner of the field. 

The children are from the deafblind unit at the school.

Under normal circumstances, all the 14 children at the unit are supposed to be in the field during PE exercise, but according to teachers, it is not possible.

“Each of us can only handle one pupil at a time. Each child is a unique learner, with unique sport or talent and requires individual attention,” says Mary Kwamboka, a senior teacher from the unit.

Ms Kwamboka says unlike normal children who would, in their numbers, follow instructions from a single teacher, each child with deafblindness requires one teacher at a time. 

According to the National Survey on Children with Disabilities and Special Needs in Education that was conducted between 2016 and 2017, 11 per cent of learners in Kenya have at least one form of disability.

The 14 deafblind children at Kilimani represent 0.2 per cent of the most common disabilities among learners in schools. Others include visual impairment (3.1), physical disability (3), intellectual disability (2.5), hearing impairment (1.2), speech and language at 0.9 per cent.

Five teachers

The challenges do not, however, just end in the field. The unit has only five teachers and during lessons, only five pupils will be having lessons, while others wait.

“And, this is if all teachers are present. If one of our teachers, or even two, fail to come, you know how many children will learn on this particular day,” says Samuel Mwangi, another teacher.

Mr Mwangi explains that their biggest challenge is under-staffing. The unit is in dire need of teachers to have lessons for all children at once.

“During lessons, these children require one-on-one attention. You cannot handle two at once. And while dealing with one, the others are waiting for their turn. Yet, these children need a lot of time before they get what you are teaching them,” explains Mwangi.

He says through experience, those who are kept waiting even for 10 minutes will start throwing tantrums and sometimes go away. Mwangi says: “That is the dilemma we have every day at this unit.”

They claim that even though the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) puts ratio of special needs and teachers at 1 to 4, children with deafblindness have a different disability.

“You cannot compare other disabilities with that of deafblindness. These are children who cannot see or hear. They are in their own world,” says Edwin Osundwa, Country Director for Sense International East Africa, an NGO that supports children with blindness and empowers their parents.

He says in the past they have worked with such units to assist in provision of resources and training of teachers.

“We are aware these deafblind units have challenges in resources and teachers. The money that the Government provides is not enough because they need expensive equipment in their day-to-day learning,” says Osundwa.

Sense International East Africa rehabilitated and equipped two classrooms at Kilimani into boarding facilities for deafblind children.

“Before turning classes into boarding facilities, parents were having difficult time bringing their children to school and taking them back in the afternoon. At least, they now bring them on Mondays and come for them on Fridays. This has given them time to do their work in search of daily bread,” said Osundwa.

Kwamboka says in addition to Sh1,050 that the Government pays for normal primary pupils as free primary education, deaf-blind children at the unit get Sh2,000 as a top-up grant each year.

She explains that, for instance, such children require a rocking chair that would cost at least Sh22,000, ball pool for sensory integration, which helps to stimulate sensory nerves in the body at the cost of Sh122,000 and a massage roller for around Sh15,000.

Other equally expensive equipment include large print books with enlarged numbers, plasticine, sound vibrating toys, special seats, therapy balls, massage oil, sound balls (balls with jingles), special playing ground, swings, ladders and climbers.

She explains that deafblind children who have interest in agriculture require a greenhouse for vocational training and it goes for at least Sh180,000. Others require material for bead work.

“As you can see, the Sh2,000 top-up grant for each student is supposed to purchase those equipment,” she says.

The Kilimani deafblind unit covers Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Naivasha, Murang’a and parts of Nakuru.

The teachers are asking for increased per capita to ensure they have adequate materials for children.

Sella Oduor, the coordinator for Education Assessment Research Centre (EARC) in Mumias, says under-staffing is a big problem at the centre and it is affecting service delivery.

“You see, our area of jurisdiction is a whole county and beyond, and you are just a few. We face a lot of challenges to do what is expected of us,” she explains.

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