The dawn of democracy in 1994 brought equal opportunities and the promotion of freedom for all the citizens of Malawi. But 23 years later, children with disabilities are yet to be fully accommodated in our education system.
It is high time our education system was reformed with particular emphasis on migrating from the segregation of learners with disabilities in special schools to including them in the general education system.
This reform is about changing the whole education system from the national, regional, district, teacher training institutions, individual schools and their communities to teachers and their learners, not forgetting parents.
Our national educational policies have to reflect inclusiveness. They have to be developed in a way that all learners can benefit from the education system. Our Legislature has to support the development and adoption of the inclusive system of education where all learners are viewed as equal.
It is disheartening to note that currently only two higher learning institutions’ namely Montfort Special Needs Education College and the Catholic University of Malawi offer courses in Special Needs Education. It is time that other public training institutions embraced special needs education and started offering the same.
Once this starts, it will be very easy to implement inclusive education in Malawi as the necessary and capable specialist teachers will be readily available to execute its implementation. In order for this to materialise, government, through the Ministry of Education, has to set aside the necessary funds to undertake the needful research on how best inclusive education can be implemented. This will ensure that the challenges that rocked implementation of free primary education are not faced with inclusive education.
Even though Malawi introduced the National Policy on Special Needs Education, the curriculum in place does not reflect this as it does not account for the needs of the students with disabilities.
A change in the educational curriculum means a change in what the students learn about; the language they learn through; how classrooms are organised and managed; teaching methods; the pace of teaching; learning materials and equipment; and how learners are assessed. Once all these are looked into, it will be easy for students with disabilities to be included in the mainstream education system without difficulties.
As a change in the education system of the country requires the involvement of many stakeholders, it is important that all the stakeholders are involved in the process as this will ensure that all are in agreement with the changes that are to be implemented.
In this regard, it is imperative that parents are included in this process as they are the ones in charge of the children and they are the ones who can make sure that their children attend inclusive schools.
Both learners with or without disabilities have to be involved in the process too as this will ensure that the learners without disabilities have a full understanding of the changes that are to take place within their education system—since most of the students with disabilities in Malawi are isolated in special schools or are included in the mainstream education system without implementing any changes to it.
Another important aspect in implementing the changes to the education system will be a reflection of these changes in early childhood development (ECD). This is so because early child interventions for students with disabilities are very essential to their life-long learning processes.
From the ECD, these interventions have to be set at the primary, secondary and higher educational levels as this will ensure that the students learn easily.
The community at large will also have to be taught the importance of inclusive education as this will help the children with disabilities to get full support from the communities that they belong to. As Malawi is on the path of achieving the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), it is best that the country draws the implementation of inclusive education from SDG4.
In a nutshell, the goal targets to ensure inclusiveness and quality education for all and to promote life-long learning. n