Postponement of Beam allocation to special schools ill-advised

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The decision taken by government through the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to postpone Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) allocation to special schools this year is not in the best interest of children with disabilities countrywide.

Aribino Nicholas

Education, according to the new Constitution of Zimbabwe is an inalienable right.

Essentially, the new constitution of Zimbabwe states that every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to a basic State-funded education.

In the spirit of the new constitution, it is the obligation of the government to ensure that its citizenry should acquire basic education.

The government is a principal duty bearer that cannot be seen to shirk its responsibilities, especially where the welfare of special populations such as children with disabilities, girls and women is concerned.

According to a communication of January 14, 2014 written by Secretary for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Ngoni Masoka to his counterpart Constance Chigwamba Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education indicating that Beam 2014 allocation to all special schools will be postponed because of some of the following reasons:

Lack of assessment reports from appropriate authorities for some of the institutionalised children;

Funding modalities for Special Schools given that their budgets exceed available resources;

Misconception of disability as basis for an automatic ticket for BEAM assistance;

The basis of making children resident at the institution (boarding).

But the above reasons cannot be used as a weapon to deny children with disabilities access to education because they are purely political, legislative and administrative matters that should be sorted out while children with disabilities are in school.

Allow me to use the word “deny” because the moment Beam is postponed as a social safety net for children with disabilities it will mean the end of their schooling life, because wide scale research has generally indicated that disability and poverty are inseparable.

This bi-directional link between poverty and disability has generally led to children with disabilities benefiting from social transfers the world over.

Children with disabilities generally come from families that experience multidimensional deprivations. When families can’t cope, it is mandatory for governments to strengthen them socially and economically so as to protect them from abuse such as child labour.
Children with disabilities may not influence their own assessments, only duty bearers can initiate such actions.

Inactions of the Department of Schools Psychological Services and Special Needs Education due to transport challenges have led special schools to accept children with disabilities in their schools without prior assessments.

It is better to have children with disabilities in special schools even before they have been assessed than have them stay at home or start school late while they await assessments.

In special schools there are already specialist teachers with sound knowledge of and skills in the management of such children.  In support of the above polemic, the Secretary’s Circular Meeting No 36 of 1990 observes that children with disabilities can be placed provisionally pending assessment.

Special education is the natural meeting ground for professionals from diverse fields, assessment cannot, therefore, be initiated without the participation of an interdisciplinary team.

In Zimbabwe it is really unfortunate that psychologists are seen as the “be-all and end-all” where children with special needs are concerned. Territorial rights cannot be allowed to disadvantage children with special needs.

When the decision was made to postpone Beam 2014 allocation to special schools, Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs), NASCOH, children with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, among others, were not consulted.

The argument about the funding modalities for special schools is fluid and jelly, because the nature of students with disabilities calls for support in multidimensional forms. For example, students with mental challenges may have additional handicaps/conditions such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, sensory deprivation syndrome, speech disorders, physical limitations and emotional-behavioural disorders.

The management of such conditions may require prostheses, regular medication, special diets, aides, volunteers, specialist teachers, nurses, rehabilitationists, physiotherapists, house parents (boarding set-up), and swimming pools for hydro therapy, accessible furniture, accessible buildings and user-friendly recreational facilities. All these things cost money.

Special schools’ budgets are therefore justifiable. It is the primary duty of a government to do resource mobilisation so that it can address some of the challenges that are encountered by special schools. Special schools are just there to complement government’s efforts in the provision of education.

The design of Beam is targeted and therefore not universal. It cites orphans and vulnerable children and goes further to single out children with disabilities as potential beneficiaries of the social safety net.

As highlighted earlier on, most children with disabilities come from poverty stricken families and without Beam they would not have access to education. More-so, the decision to have children on Beam is a result of a Beam selection committee made up of local people in partnership with school authorities.

Given this background, the government appears to hide behind a finger when it says that misconceptions of disability as a basis for an automatic ticket for Beam assistance is seen as a matter of concern.

The government is aware of the structures that have been put in place to select deserving Beam beneficiaries. There are children with disabilities who come from well-to-do families who are not on Beam. This therefore, is a weak argument that cannot be used to facilitate the postponement of Beam in special schools.

Protect their rights, needs

As a nation we want sanity, not vanity where the welfare of children with disabilities is concerned. Sanity begins with the realisation that the government has fallen on economic hard times. This realisation should afford us some kind of insight as compared to sight.

With insight, we are bound to see beyond the challenge.
When we see beyond the challenge as a nation we should then be in a position to form synergies, networks, coalitions and alliances with the outside world, agencies and local private entities in order to promote and protect the rights and needs of children with disabilities.

The need of the hour therefore, is not to postpone Beam allocations to special schools, but to engage in resource mobilisation.

There is also need for re-tooling the department of Psychological Services and Special Needs Education to enable it to carry out its assessments timeously, entitlement mentality of some parents of children with disabilities should be addressed through awareness raising workshops about their roles as duty bearers. The move from institutionalisation to inclusion can only be seen in terms of a process rather than an event.

As a process it will imply transitional phases which come with costs as the entire teacher education curricula would need revisitation, old buildings and new school buildings will need to be accessible to children with disabilities.

When the government of Zimbabwe ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) it committed itself to align its policies and laws to the dictates of the international instrument. The behavior of the government should therefore be in sympathy with the said convention. Essentially, the postponement of BEAM allocations in 2014 will be at odds with the legal demands of the UNCRPD.

Inclusive education is not always practical

The last reason behind the postponement of Beam in special schools is pegged on making children resident at the institution (boarding).

Impliedly, this argument may be examined in terms of promoting inclusive education in Zimbabwe. At the level of discourse and material practice, inclusive education is not always practicable in developing countries like Zimbabwe.

The nature of some disabilities is such that they cannot be managed in regular schools. For instance, there are students who are deaf-blind, blind, deaf, autistic, deaf and mentally challenged, physically challenged and emotionally-behaviorally challenged, among others.

The teachers in the regular school system have not been equipped to manage children with sensory and multiple disabilities. Mainstreaming students with such profound impairments in regular schools will be akin to “dump streaming” them.

Inclusion while a noble idea on paper, is not appropriate for all children. Arguably, inclusion should be seen as attitude change rather than physical placement.

In a study by Reezigi and Jan-Pul (1998) it was found that many pupils who had been included in regular classes in the Netherlands wanted to go back to their special schools because pupils in regular schools did not want to socially and academically mix with them.

According to Mushoriwa (2002) many people talk about inclusion without considering the pedagogical consequences of such inclusion. An inclusive class with its heterogeneity in terms of interests, developmental needs, abilities, preferences and experiences are hard to define as a group.

Pretending that people are the same is a clear denial of reality and an education system that denies reality is bound to give its subjects irrelevant and inappropriate skills, knowledge and abilities (Mushoriwa, 2002). The mere idea of inclusion implies that that person is different and as such will remain different even in inclusive settings.

The government certainly needs to observe the rights of all children by availing to them what they deserve so that they become the best of themselves. This is only possible by giving children with severe or profound disabilities an appropriate education in special schools.

In special schools these children are merely specialising according to their abilities and their potentials, just as much as some of us at some stage in our schooling may specialise in some field according to our abilities. Essentially, special schools are a special arrangement for them, as much as we may have special seats for them on a bus.

Pursuant to the above analogy, Mushoriwa (2002) says that if there were many such people with disabilities boarding a bus, it would be more appropriate to have them on their own bus with special seats for them than have them on a bus with ordinary seats where they would seat very uncomfortably just for the sake of being together with people without disabilities.

With respect to developing countries, inclusive education still looms in the distance. Inclusive education, if it is not to remain a political slogan requires a lot of material, human and financial resources. Even the World Bank Report (1994) says that in order to cater for children with special educational needs, schools need to be provided with the full range of human resources necessary to deliver a full curriculum for all children through a combination of class teacher, specialist teacher, semi specialist teacher, resource teacher, consultancy, and ancillary staff. Can developing countries afford to pay so many “teachers” per class?

Aribino Nicholas is the Zimcare director. He writes in his personal capacity

3 COMMENTS

  1. BEAM wanted a budget of 30 million dollars for it to operate effectivley and it was allocated 15 million which is half of its requirements. Hw can the ministry allocate 206 million to the office of the president when it fails to fully fund basic education for ophaned,disabled and vulnerable children. I just wonder hw they rank their priorities at Zanu pf at the moment they are busy fundraising 1 million for the president,s birthday bash when close to a million kids are failing to school. The million dollars will go a long way torwards Beam than to host a million dollar birhtday party for a 90 year old.

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