What are experts, activists and people with disabilities saying should be done to ensure that Malawi gets its right on inclusive education? EPHRAIM NYONDO continues the inclusive education series.
Inclusive education, if well implemented, is being touted as a panacea to the problem of not just educating but also integrating children with disabilities and those with learning difficulties in society.
However, Malawi is still struggling to get it right. Currently, there are still many issues that need to be addressed for inclusive education to be reality.
No direct policy
Currently, despite having a legal and policy framework that—directly or indirectly—provides for inclusive education, Malawi does not have a specific policy on inclusive education.
Renowned educationist Roy Hauya says the 2012 Education Act does not specifically refer to inclusive education but lays the legal ground for non-discrimination. He also adds that the Disability Act is the most robust legal framework but it is less referred to among education officials, not well understood and not fully applied to education.
He notes that two policies are key to inclusive education: the National Policy on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and the Malawi Education Sector Policy.
The first, he argues, is more specific to issues of inclusion and provides clear guidance but both underline free access to education.
Despite that, however, Malawi has no policy on inclusive education except guidelines which are drafted as if a policy exists.
For Malonje Phiri, inclusive education expert with Fedoma, this has had an impact on implementing inclusive education due to lack of uniformity among various players.
Phiri points out that, for instance, the 2008/2017 National Education Sector Plan (Nesp) does not directly refer to inclusive education in its priorities, strategies, guiding principles and enrolment targets.
“The document mentions ‘poor access for children with special needs’ without definition of strategy and indicators. Clearly, there is confusion in the use of ‘special needs’ and ‘inclusive education’ reflecting lack of conceptual understanding and likelihood of operational challenges,” he says.
For a successful education of children with disabilities, he recommends an improvement on the Education Act (2012) so that issues of inclusive education can be clearly detailed. He further says there must be sound inclusive education policies with clear cut definition on inclusive education.
“This must be practicable and doable and based on Malawian setting. Any international statements on inclusive education must be naturalised,” he says.
Another key issue underpinning inclusive education in Malawi is teacher training, experts note. Not only are most teachers not well versed in managing an inclusive education classroom. The training itself, notes Dr Elizabeth Kamchedzera, lecturer in inclusive education at Chancellor College, has shortfalls that needs to be addressed at the curriculum level.
In a paper titled ‘Special Needs Teacher Education (SNTE) in Malawi: Present Status and Trends’ Kamchedzera writes that training an inclusive teacher calls for changes in curricular decisions, classroom arrangements, provision of teaching and learning materials, adequate budgetary allocation and more importantly, appropriate teacher preparation.
“Preparation of special needs teachers and regular teachers in Malawi faces many challenges that need to be addressed,” she says.
However, she notes that training of specialist teachers in Malawi is restricted to visual impairment, hearing impairment and learning difficulties and yet there is also a need for multi-disability teachers and regular teachers with special needs education skills.
“There is, therefore, a need to plan different types of training programmes with variations in content, process and duration. Teacher education programmes should include the component of special needs education to enable all teachers to respond to the diverse needs of all learners in today’s classrooms,” she explains.
She recommends that government needs to come up with strong disability legislation and implement the National Policy on Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities to ensure that teacher education institutions include special needs education in their pre-service curricula.
Asked what he would do to implement inclusive education if he were minister of education, science and technology, Phiri—who has speech and hearing problems but holds a masters degree in inclusive education—very blunt.
He, firstly, says he would make sure all teachers colleges have full inclusive and special programmes, not mere subjects.
“Each teacher should understand the educational needs fo learners with disabilities. Assistance should be given on spot,” he says.
He adds he would, again, encourage the need for great coordination and collaboration among inclusive education players in the country.
In case of those with hearing difficulties, there should be identification and newborn hearing screening at early stage.
“This is to assist in the identification of hearing loss in infants, so that proper assistance can be rendered to a child and parents,” he says.
Phiri also adds that early intervention is key for children with disabilities because they are at a higher risk for delays in their educational development, especially those with communication and language development challenges.
“If they are not intervened in time, their academic progress will be poor and there is delay in critical thinking skills and problems with social and emotional development.
“As a result, there must be professionals in the field who feel strongly that early intervention enhances the development of children with a hearing loss,” he says.
Amid all the issues raised by various players, government says it is committed to ensureing that inclusive education is a reality in Malawi.
Director of special needs education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, David Njaidi, says they are currently using three strategies in terms of teacher training.
“One, we have specialised teachers that are being trained in special needs education at Montfort College in Chiradzulu; two, in all our teacher training schools and colleges, we have components of specials needs; and three, we also conduct professional development courses where we target teachers that did not study special needs during the teacher training,” he says.
Asked if the content in the trainings are robust, especially among those being targeted on professional development, Njaidi says: “To some extent, yes; but we are improving with each passing day.”
“We have been doing this since 2006 and I can assure the public that we are gaining ground,” he says.
On operating without a special policy on inclusive education, Njaidi notes that currently their operations are being guided by the principle of education for all, or compulsory education, as stipulated in the Education Act.
“Although there is no specific policy, we still have policies in education that we are using. However, over the years we have realised the need for a special policy. Currently, the Ministry is developing the inclusive education policy with support from Unicef,” he says.
Asked his views regarding the progress of inclusive education in Malawi, Njaidi called on Malawians to understand that inclusive education is a recent development but government is making major steps towards its full realisation.
“Most teachers still do not have the knowledge and skills of managing an inclusive classroom where they have to deal with various types of learners’ learning difficulties. We are talking of a class which has learners’ with psycho-social problems, learning difficulties and disabilities. But with time, we will make it,” he says.