Agony as school for deaf on verge of closure

Stanley Kaibei a Class 8 maths teacher during a lesson at Iten School for the Deaf in Elgeyo Marakwet. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

As the world marked International Deaf Awareness Day, pupils at the Iten School for the Deaf are staring at an abyss as government funding dries out.

It’s 11.34 am on Friday. Class Eight pupils are jovial, eyes fixed on Stanley Kaibei, the mathematics teacher.

Hosea Kemboi, a candidate at the school, takes up the assignment of calculating the area of a triangle, a move that shows he was keen while his teacher was demonstrating an example on the board.

But, away from the classroom, the school is facing tough times after Ministry of Education capitation funds dried out, leaving the school on its knees.

For the past two terms, the school with a population of 70 learners, has not received funds to support learning.

According to the headteacher Joseph Kipyego, in order to facilitate the smooth running of the institution, the school board of management has been forced to seek donations from various institutions, organisations and private businesses.

“We have written to the community asking them to help us with food items, firewood, and other essentials, and this is what has kept the institution afloat,” said Kipyego.

He added that workers at the schools for the past three months have been offering their services free of charge.

The government funding for special schools is based on the number of pupils despite the unique challenges, which come with children living with disabilities.

“It is time the ministry reconsiders these funding models. The nature of the disabilities the school is taking care of should be a key priority. For instance, you cannot give an institution with physically challenged children the same amount of money as those who for mentally challenged,” Kipyego said.

He says that in such institutions, apart from basic education, medical treatment is also factored in.

“Some parents with deaf children sent their young ones to school on their own for fear of stigma while some are evading the school management, and don’t want to pay fees for their children,” he added.

What is sad to note is that according to Kipyego, most of the parents don’t give priority to such children, instead preferring to pay fees for their other children who don’t have disabilities, and end up dumping those with disabilities in such schools and left at the mercy of teachers.

“Parents and the community are still living in denial. When they get children with speech or hearing impairments, they tend to neglect such children. These minors suffer as they are given little or no attention,” he said.

He added that the National Government-Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) which was recently declared illegal by the courts should be revived as it has been supporting school infrastructure in various parts of the country.

The school stands courtesy of the Keiyo North NG-CDF which supported the construction of three classrooms, a dining hall and an administration block. Apart from the school funding challenges, Kipyego said most parents are not conversant with sign language.

He said that when such children cannot interact well with their parents at home due to such challenges and when they report back to school it is like the children have been released from bondage.

It is time we introduce sign language to parents to allow for two-way communication with their children who are deaf, as most of them do not understand what the children want because of the communication barrier.

Sharon Cheruiyot, a sign language interpreter, said most of the county government and national government has not put structures to hire staff to aid deaf people seeking services. She lamented that deaf people go through a lot of challenges when seeking services in such offices, a situation that needs to be given priority.

Further, Cheruiyot called upon the government to offer subsidised fees for disabled students seeking to pursue their dream careers and as well improve and construct more special schools to accommodate the rising cases.

“The deaf and people living with disabilities must be given a key priority in terms of employment, service delivery and also education, given such chances they can perform well,” she said. She also reiterated that sign language should be introduced in all fields to allow communication when dealing with people who are deaf and seeking services across the country.