The sound of braille machines reverberates from a classroom as young, visually impaired boys and girls of Milimani Primary School in Nakuru punch dots on braille papers.
Those yet to master the art of using the braille have to sort maize and beans. This to any ordinary person seems a punishment but for a teacher at the school, it is part of learning.
“It’s through this that they learn how to feel,” says teacher Jane Chesire, who is in charge of the blind unit.
Learning here is not easy. Two teachers attend to the 20 learners in the unit.
The two not only engage the pupils in class work but also have to teach them how to walk, communicate and socialise with other students.
Chesire says the school had to convert a classroom to accommodate the learners, and they have no special latrine and are forced to share with the other students.
“We had to improvise and convert a classroom into a dormitory,” she says.
The lack of other essential facilities such as magnifying lenses for learners with partial visual impairment has hampered learning.
Milimani Primary is not an exception.
At Pangani Integrated School, the ratio of teacher to pupils is 1:17 against the stipulated 1:4 for children with special needs.
The school has two wings -- one that caters for regular pupils and the other for children with special needs, where majority of the over 185 pupils are autistic, others are mentally challenged and the rest physically disabled.
The school has 15 teachers. Fourteen are female and only one man. The only male teacher teaches 97 boys behavioural manners.
At Ngala School for the Deaf with over 180 pupils, the situation is no better. The pupils lack learning materials.
Parents have to chip in to cater for lunch and upkeep as money allocated by the Ministry of Education is barely enough. Each parent pays Sh3,000 per term.
At Menengai Integrated Primary School, 18 visually impaired students have inadequate learning and special sanitation facilities. Students use open pit latrines.
In Baringo County, Kabarnet School for the Deaf and Blind face a myriad challenges.
For a month now, the 75 pupils have not been in school after non-teaching staff went on strike demanding 12-month salary arrears.
The 31 non-teaching staff are demanding over Sh4 million salary arrears. The strike continues.
The school served as a safe haven for the disabled children but with the frustrations experienced its doors seem to be slowly closing down.
School matron Susan Cherogony says the non-teaching staff spend most of their time with the learners and understand them better.
Cherogony says they wrote a letter to the Director, Special Needs Education in the Ministry of Education, seeking to have their issues addressed but their cries fell on deaf ears.
“Absolute pessimism has persisted on the non-teaching staff since they have seen the Board of Management exhaust all available official mechanisms in the country’s Education Ministry offices several times but all in vain,” reads the letter dated May 27.
Aside from the salary issue, other challenges, including under-staffing and lack of proper infrastructure plague most special schools in the region.
Baringo County Kenya Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Secretary Christopher Kimosop says the ministry seems not keen on the issues and challenges facing special schools.
Kimosop says it is not even clear how much money the government allocates for the schools.
“A lot needs to be done, the schools are really struggling with under-staffing and under-funding. We are concerned about this neglect by the government,” he says.
Nominated Senator Inimah Musuruve says institutions with special needs need a lot of attention.
While raising the matter in the Senate last year, Musuruve said some of the challenges the institutions face include lack of teachers, medication, sanitation facilities and instructional materials.
She said Kabarnet School for the Deaf and Blind does not have enough teachers.
“This problem does not only affect Kabarnet School for the Deaf and Blind, but also the deaf and blind units in Mumias School, Kedowa Special School and other special institutions for the deaf-blind children,” Musuruve said.
The senator said the deaf-blind learners need individualised attention.
She said the situation at Kimwanga Special School in Bungoma was shocking as the infrastructure was not enough.
“When I went to Kimwanga Special School in Bungoma, I found only one Teachers Service Commission-employed teacher who was the headmistress and was due to retire in February. As we speak now, that teacher has already retired,” she said.
When it comes to capitation in special schools, she said the government sends only Sh2,000 per child, and the money is not enough because of the nature of demands of children with special needs.
“Even the Sh2,000 is not sent in good time. This money is sent after three or six months,” she lamented.