As the Education Ministry announced the return of leaners to schools, the needs of Special institutions seemed to have been forgotten.
This category of schools is grappling with how to adhere to the Covid-19 containment measures once the institutions reopen.
Not much has been said about the schools, even as the Special Schools Heads Association of Kenya revealed that they will also reopen on October 12 as per the ministry’s circular.
The circular, dated October 6, issued blanket guidelines which include mandatory wearing of masks, monitoring of body temperature and observance of the high level of hygiene, to all schools.
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Otoa Sifuna, a teacher and education expert, notes that most schools in the country are integrated — both regular and special — which explains the general guidelines with nothing specific for those in special schools.
“But even before the pandemic, special schools have been facing challenges. When they (stakeholders) sat to discuss re-opening, they seem to have had only regular schools in mind,” Sifuna said.
Sifuna said children who are physically-disabled cannot access amenities such as water points the same way as children in regular schools.
Some messages on containment measures, he adds, should be in Braille for the visually-impaired to benefit.
‘’There is a shortage of books in Braille for learners with special needs but the Ministry of Education is working with other stakeholders to ensure the books are put in digital formats. We also expect more copies of books in Braille to be made available in schools,” said Jackson Omkwana, an official of the Kenya Union of the Blind.
Sifuna said teachers have also not been trained on how to handle special needs children during these unique times.
“Some of these children do not study in their locality, so how will a student from western Kenya travel to Thika School for the Blind? Unless we talk of more funding, most schools will be strained,” he said.
Benedict Wanjala, the headteacher at Mwikhome Special School for the Deaf in Kakamega, said the institutions are poorly-funded thus observing guidelines that keeps Covid-19 at bay will be a tall order.
‘’Opening schools is one thing and preparations is another. During the country’s fight against the disease, special needs schools have been neglected,’’ said Wanjala.
Wanjala faults the national government for doing very little in addressing dilapidated states of buildings in schools.
James Okoko, the headteacher at Daisy Special School in Kakamega, said that constraints of learning tools will play out when learning resumes.
“In our case, we have 32 learners in Class Eight, so social distancing will force us to have only 16 pupils in a classroom. Some will learn from tents but that is also risky when it rains,’’ Okoko said.
Kenya Peter Sitienei, the chair of Special Schools Heads Association, said while it is better for these children to be in schools, more funding is needed to handle the extra needs that will come with the pandemic.
Sitienei said the Sh11,000 capitation through the free primary education is not enough.
“A shilling in a regular school of 1,000 pupils is simply Sh1,000 but the same in a special school is equivalent to Sh100 because of the needs involved,” he said.
Sitienei said the government needs to provide masks.
“Most of the children, 75 per cent, come from poor families, so you cannot tell them to buy a mask costing Sh50 or Sh20 yet they have no food,” he said.