Education plays an important role in addressing the issues that impede the education of children with special needs in Zambia. The overall goal of the Ministry of General Education is to provide equal access to education to all learners irrespective of their physical or mental state. Children with disabilities experience different forms of exclusion that cut them off from health, education, and social services. Supportive services and technology will enable children with disabilities to take their place in society and contribute to their family and community. This paper discusses ways in which education for individuals with special needs can be enhanced in Zambian schools.
Education for persons with special needs Act (2004) define special education needs as restriction in capacity of a person to participate in and benefit from education on account of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability or any other condition which results in such individual learning differently from one without that condition. Special educational needs relates to terms like disability, impairment, handicap, and other special needs. UNESCO (2006) refers to people with special needs as those that have emotional, behavioral, sensory, physical, or mental disabilities. Students who for a variety of reasons (intellectual, physical, social, psychological) experience learning disabilities which are more significant than those experienced by majority of learners of the same age. Such students need special educational needs. Moreover, it is an obligation of any country to help in the education of disabled children and enhancing their educational abilities by providing educational support and promoting inclusive education for them.
Wikipedia (n.d) comments that inclusive education refers to a model wherein special needs student spend most or all of their time with non-special needs students. Inclusion is a philosophy that focuses on the process of adjusting the home, school, and society so that all the individuals regardless of their difference, can have the opportunity to interact, play, learn, work, and experience the feeling of belonging and experiment to develop in accordance with their potentials and difficulties (The National Special Needs Education Policy Framework (NSNEPF, 2009). Inclusion therefore will promote integration which is process by which learners with or without special needs are taught together to the maximum extent possible in a least restrictive environment. To start with, learning is more likely to occur in classrooms where there is active involvement of learners, negotiation of individual learning objectives, continuous evaluation of learning and support for learners and teachers. Inclusion programs such as relationships between children–to-children, parent–to-children, and teacher–to-children will greatly enhance education for children living with disabilities.
Teacher Education Resource Pack (TERP, 1993) states, it is of paramount importance in any school that a child-to-teacher relationship exists. Moreover, through their day-to-day interactions, the working ‘ethos’ of the school will be created. This can reflect to how children view the teacher or how teachers view the children. For example, ‘Mr. Chomba is humble. He always shouts.’ ‘Ms. Mulenga is very kind; if you cannot do the work she will always help you.’ Generally, children are very good at analyzing the professional competence of their teachers. They are not slow to assess both their strengths and weaknesses. “Research suggests that personal relationships are very important” (TERP, 1993).
Secondly, promoting of more child-to-child relationship will significantly help all children to learn successfully. In other words, children will be encouraged to help one another. This approach will help children experiencing difficulties or those who have disabilities. UNESCO (1993) agrees that there is a lot of evidence that suggests that peers trained as tutor can sometimes be more effective than adults at improving reading or teaching of Mathematical concepts. Peer tutoring partnerships are, therefore, a sensible way for teachers to provide extra help to individual pupils. Moreover, inclusion of pupils with disabilities in certain aspects of their school life such as school clubs, social events has proven to be an effective way of enabling the pupils to participate more fully (UNESCO, 1993). Furthermore, this approach will help those children who are not disabled gain awareness of different disabilities and what it might be like to be disabled. They will learn that though disabled person may have difficult doing some things, he/she may be able to do other things extra well; they will also become defenders of any child who is different or has special needs.
Last but not least, “involving parents on a broad basis within school not only leads to the development of positive relationships between home and school but also makes it more probable that the parents take an interest in the education of their children” (UNESCO, 1993, p.155). This will have a beneficial effect on the pupils when they see parents and teacher co-operating. In addition, it will keep them informed of the progress of their child, and the school’s view of their child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Besides inclusive education, educational support is of utmost importance in the education of children living with disabilities. Educational support intervention programs such as school infrastructure adaptations where necessary, assistive technology to aid children with severe disabilities, additional professional competence, specialist equipment, and enhanced capitalization grants for special schools and mainstream schools with special classes. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE, 2013) concludes that provision of care support is a clear responsibility for the education and care of the students with special education needs and it lies with the school and the teachers. It further asserts that by increasing their engagement in the post-primary curriculum, increasing their numeracy skills, assisting their self-regulation behavior, supporting learning and teaching of subjects across the curriculum will greatly improve educational outcomes of students with disabilities.
NSNEPF (2009) comments that it is important that school infrastructure is adapted and suitable to children with SEN, especially in mainstream schools with special classes e.g. ramps and accessible adapted bathrooms. Besides school infrastructure, assistive devices also help assist children with severe disabilities in their education. Assistive devices are equipment aimed at reducing effects of disabilities resulting from impairments (Centre on Technology and Disability, 2014). They enhance functional abilities of persons with special needs. Examples are computers, hearing aids for persons with hearing impairment, magnifying glasses for persons with low vision and wheelchairs for persons with mobility difficulties, among others. Assistive technology will help students with disabilities learn the material in a way that they can understand it. Furthermore, it will eliminate barriers students’ face that prevents them from being at the same level as their classmates.
Professional competence is another intervention that will help enhance education for students with SEN. Professional competence such as resource teachers and specialists are some examples. A resource teacher is someone who has received training in special needs education, advises, and assists learners with special needs and disabilities, teachers and other service providers in one or more institutions (TNSNEPF, 2009). Specialists are personnel trained employed/deployed to provide professionally recognized services, other than teaching to learners with SEN. These include sign language interpreters, sighted guides, refractionists, braillists, transcribers, readers, physiotherapists, occupational therapist, counselors, orientation and mobility teachers and ICT experts (TNSNEPF, 2009). In addition, provision of training one teacher to in each school that offer classes for students with SEN. This teacher will offer guidance and help to those teachers relating to strategies for teaching children with SEN.
Unfortunately, according to Schumm and Vaughn (1995), one of the negative factors that many schools face is inadequate resources. Resources may be in the form of paraprofessionals, adaptive equipment, and smaller class sizes. In addition, an educator who is provided with needed resources and materials is more likely to rate their inclusion experiences as positives. Especially in mainstream schools, teachers do not have the time to meet and plan their inclusion practices, while in the other hand they are being given additional responsibilities. Schumm and Vaughn (1991) state that time will allow teachers to help make curricular adaptations for students with disabilities. Additional resources that schools lack are large print or braille books and tactile aids that assist with vision impairment; chair lifters and carefully graded instructional material to suit children who are developmentally delayed (Curtain ; Phemister, 1985; Glazzard, 1980).
Finally, both special and mainstream schools require funding which are fundamental in the smooth running and maintenance of the infrastructure. Such funding is called capitation grant. A capitation grant is an amount of money that is given to an organization for each person it deals with, teaches, or cares for (Cambridge business English dictionary, 2011). NCSE (2013) comments that capitation grants help in the running costs of the schools, for example, heating, cleaning, lighting, maintenance of school premises and grounds and provision of teaching materials and resources. Moreover, the NCSE observes that schools incur significant costs in maintaining and/or replacing necessary equipment for students in special schools or classes, for example, laminators, desks or chairs damaged by students with special educational needs. Therefore increasing the amount of capitation grant offered will greatly enhance the education of students with special needs.
To sum up, inclusive education means that all students are welcome, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or educational need. It brings with it integration and reduces stigmatization towards children with special educational needs. The benefits include meaningful friendships, respect, better appreciation, and understanding of individual differences and helps them prepare for adult life in a diverse society. Families also benefit, especially when the student with the special need is an only child.