By Steria Manda, contributor:
To build an inclusive education sector, the Malawi Government developed the Policy Investment Framework (PIF), which specifies the country’s commitment to quality education for all.
The PIF document states that Malawi will commit to reducing inequalities in the schools across the social groups and regions by providing bursary schemes, increasing school enrolment of female learners, increasing community participation in management of local 13 schools and provision of enabling environments for learners with special needs.
These efforts demonstrated the country’s cognisance of the need to create an inclusive society and achieve international targets such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of universal primary education and Education for All (EFA) goals by 2015.
But Daniel Malango, who is National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust District Civic Education Officer for Dedza and Lilongwe, is worried that seven years down the line, Malawi does not seem to be anywhere near the set goals in the special needs education (SNE) sector.
Malango observed that the education sector remains riddled with constraints that hinder effective implementation and provision of SNE services in Malawi.
He cited lack of sufficient funding, environmental barriers, attitudinal barriers, limited capacity to train SNE teachers, the institutional structure and lack of coordination and partnership on SNE issues (SNE Policy 2007).
Malango is more worried that, despite much talk about leaving no one behind as Malawi races against her Malawi 2063 (MW2063) development agenda, there has been little effort to address critical challenges affecting SNE service at grassroots levels.
“Some of these challenges are cultural biases, which lead to preferential treatment and allocation of resources and opportunities to male children and children without disabilities; lack of access to SNE services and support, d i s tance to school, inaccessible physical environment, physical and verbal abuse of children with disabilities, and the nature of the education setting which mostly encourage negative attitudes towards learners with special needs,” he said.
Apparently, Lilongwe and Dedza are some of the districts with high cases of discrimination and stigma against children with physical disabilities.
Malango disclosed that parentsin the two districts are still hiding their children with disabilities from the public.
“Effectively, they are violating their children’s right to education, which is key in unlocking one’s potential,” he lamented.
A new research by Shelter and Capability Scotland in the United Kingdom (UK) reveals that millions of disabled people across the globe are forced to rely on charities for basic care, equipment and vital information because of gaps in social services.
Their report, Fit for Purpose, also exposes the constant battle persons with disabilities (PWDs) face as they try to adapt their homes or move into more suitable housing.
A lack of practical advice, long waiting lists and shortfalls in funding are common because of a huge gap between government policy and practice on the ground, the authors say.
The findings of this research highlights problems common across the globe, where charities frequently fill gaps left by a shortage of suitable housing and discrimination in the job market.
In Malawi, thousands of PWDs are still reliant on social services to decide what they need.
Parents of children with severe disabilities in some parts of the country rely on charities for basics such as incontinence pads and wheelchairs. In some instances, a lack of classroom services prevents children with disabilities from pursuing their education.
Disability is referenced in various parts of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and specifically in parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the SDGs.
For instance, SDG 4 seeks to promote inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all focuses on eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities.
In addition, the proposal calls for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
In Goal 8, countries are called to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, the international community aims to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.
On the other hand, SDG 10 strives to reduce inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, including persons with disabilities.
With financial support from United Nations Children’s Fund, Nice and Malawi Law Commission are jointly implementing a Legal Literacy Programme, which aims to address gaps in the education sector and enhance knowledge on gender-related violence among parents, teachers, learners and traditional leaders in Dedza.
The programme also aims at tackling all forms of violence against children in an effort to create a safe environment for their education.
Malango says the overall objective of the project is to contribute towards a disability inclusive society in Malawi where people with disability enjoy improved quality of life.
“Nice and Malawi Law Commission strongly believe that collaboration among stakeholders is key in ensuring that every child, including children with any form of disability, must enjoy their right to education,” he said.
Through this programme, Nice and Malawi Law Commission have facilitated the formation of platforms through which parents of and children with disabilities and duty-bearers engage in serious discussions on matters affecting this sector.
The platforms also help parents of children with disabilities and the children themselves to effectively participate in local development planning and decision-making processes.
Through these platforms, Nice and Malawi Law Commission also expect to get evidence-based practices to inform disability programming of targeted sectoral programs at district and national level are in place and that disability inclusive budgeting is promoted in government programs in five target districts and on national level, in line with disability related legal instruments.
Nice Acting Executive Director Gray Kalindekafe says the programme was initiated to complement government efforts to ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’ as Malawi races against the MW2063 targets.
Kalindekafe recommended that councils should adopt a ‘bottom-up’ approach to budgeting, which commits them to consult from the village level before moving to the Area Development Committee when soliciting views on what needs to be included in the financial blueprint of the district.
He says this process would ensure that duty-bearers are formulating budgets and policies that work to consolidate democratic and economic governance from the village through to the council.
He observes that the national policies have dwelt much on accessibility of public structures such as schools and hospitals without putting much emphasis on building their resilience to financial and economic problems.
“I think the people have talked much about disability issues. Unfortunately, most of the emphasis has been to do with access to buildings. But to us, the most important thing is economic empowerment; how we empower PWD to stand on their own. And in that regard, the resources we receive may not actually be adequate to cover all sectors, but we make much effort to ensure that in all areas of financing, persons with disabilities are benefitting,” Kalindekafe says.
Head teacher for Mua School for the Deaf, Henry Chiwaya, believes that challenges such as the culture of discriminating against children with disabilities, unavailability of teaching materials, shortage of qualified SNE teachers and inadequate schools that provide inclusive education can easily be resolved if stakeholders can agree to work together.