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Stakeholders want state to address challenges of special needs learners

 Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumincha chats with a learner with special needs during PEPFAR's 20th-anniversary celebrations in Nairobi on November 28, 2023. [Courtesy, US Embassy]

Shortage of teaching aids and human resources in special needs education institutions continues to pose a major challenge to students well-being.

Education stakeholders have said assistive devices and equipment needed by learners with special needs are unaffordable by some parents.

They noted that challenges facing schools include a shortage of specialist teachers and facilities and low basic digital literacy of the teachers to facilitate inclusive education.

Education stakeholders said classroom arrangement, size and management and low government investment in digital education are also a hindrance to learners with special needs.

Kenya Union of Special Needs Education Teachers (Kusnet), chairman, Peter Sitienei said the worrying situation requires urgent government intervention.

"It is sickening to see majority of our learners skipping exams while no one takes action. We are special and need special attention to change the trend," he said.

If the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams results in the past three years are anything to go by, then the performance of special needs students is on a steady decline.

The highest special needs candidate had a score of 411 marks in 2023 KCPE. The score in 2022 was 419 while in 2021 the highest candidate got 420 marks.

In the 2023 KCPE exams, only two special needs candidates scored 400 marks compared to 39 the previous year. The results show that 1,424 learners with special needs candidates scored between 1-199 marks.

Sitienei said special needs education has a serious shortage of teachers, posing a big threat to the sector.

"The current bargaining system was not built for us. It is not efficient and is too casual. We welcome the opportunity to explore several avenues that will be customised to our circumstances," he said.

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu defended the government saying learners with special needs are well catered for.

"Although we have not been very effective in this area, but going forward, this is the area we want to focus on," Machogu said adding that learners in this category receive more capitation funds.

"When we give the normal capitation of Sh22,240 to students in high school, for disability we give between Sh35,000 to Sh37,000 because of the special needs they require," he said.  

National Assembly Committee of Education Chairman Julius Melly urged the government to review capitation funds saying for a long time, funds have remained constant despite the changing needs and challenges of learners.

‘‘For the last five years, capitation in this cadre of schools has stagnated despite the ever-changing needs of the learners. The government has to do something," he said.

Melly faulted the government for giving too little to special needs institutions.

“Teaching devices required in these schools are costly. The schools continue staggeringly getting the funds, making it hard for the administrators of these schools to administer services effectively," he said.

Kenya Institute of Special Education (Kise) Director Norman Kiogora urged the government to look into the welfare of schools since learners need tender care for upbringing.

"Our learners with special needs are special in a way. They learn differently and need to nurture their ability according to their need," Dr Kiogora said.

He urged the Ministry to develop a different assessment system instead of the standardized assessment.

Kiogora further noted that when the learners fail in the normal exams it does not mean they have failed in life since there are many alternatives for such children.

"The learners may not be able to compress the work studied in the period of their study in school in just a few hours. Some children with cognitive disabilities may not be able to sit in class for interest and skills where they are not very perfect," he said.

"As we prepare to reopen schools, the government should train teachers at all levels of education so that at times when they have a child with special needs, they are ready to receive them and know what to do. Each teacher in this country should have the basic skills to handle a child with special needs," added Kiogora.

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