Friday, May 30, 2008

Envoy links education disparities to high average enrolments

Envoy links education disparities to high average enrolments
By Mutuna Chanda
Friday May 30, 2008 [04:00]

THE disparities in Zambia's education sector are being hidden by the high average enrolments resulting from free basic education, Netherlands Embassy secretary for education Vincent Snijders has said. And Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) chairperson Victor Koyi accused the government of being in the lead in discriminating against disabled children.

Speaking in Lusaka yesterday to mark the 2008 Global Action Week on education under the theme, 'Quality Education for all: Educate to end exclusion', Snijders also observed that the education system in Zambia had difficulties in reaching out to children with disabilities or special needs.

"The high average enrolments in Zambia hide disparities between boys and girls, between rural and urban areas and between poor and rich households," Snijders said. "One of the components of the Ministry of Education's plan is equity, in addition to quality, access and efficiency. Equity is about making sure that all Zambian children whether boy or girl, rural or urban, poor or rich handicapped or not have access to quality education."

He said special education needs for poor children needed to be tackled.

"They live in areas with large distances between schools, poor facilities and high pupil-to-teacher ratios," Snijders said. "Meeting their educational needs; this means a pro-poor focus, for instance by deploying teachers to the most difficult schools and encouraging them to stay there."

He also said the education system had difficulties in reaching out to children with special needs due to overcrowded classrooms and lack of facilities.

"Last year, I visited the school for the visually impaired children in Kawambwa and became convinced that the Ministry of Education needs to step up support to these specialised schools," said Snijders. "We have to accept that in most classes we already have children with special learning needs. Teachers need to be trained to identify the special needs children may have and to feel comfortable in providing them with the special support they require."

However, Snijders said universal primary education for Zambia seemed a realistic goal.

And Koyi said the Persons and Disabilities Act of 1996, classified discrimination in learning institutions as an offence.

"If you visited some of the schools you will find teachers teaching deaf children by speaking to them. Deaf children need teachers who are efficient in sign language. Visually-impaired children need Braille books but you find them with ink print books in most of these schools," Koyi said. "Such inadequacies compromise full inclusion into the education system. Almost all the schools in this country are built in such a way that physically disabled children fail to access them. The infrastructure is not suitable for them."

He said as part of this year's Global Week for Action, ZANEC commissioned a study to consider education for children with special needs at basic school level and that the findings revealed glaring disparities.

"In terms of teachers qualified to handle children with special needs, only two per cent accounts for this number from the 56, 895 teachers deployed by the Ministry of Education countrywide. Further in relation to teacher provision there are 170, 084 children with special education needs, with only 1,132 teachers with special education qualifications, translating to a teacher-pupil ratio of one teacher to 150 children with disabilities while that of regular learners stands at one to 53 on average," said Koyi.

He challenged the government to go beyond lip service when it came to meeting the needs of disabled children.

But education deputy minister Clement Sinyinda said the government was fully aware of the challenges that children with special education needs faced and was committed to addressing them.

He cited inadequate teaching and learning materials, inadequate personnel, non-availability of adaptive technology and inaccessible infrastructure as some of the problems that needed to be addressed.

Sinyinda said both the law and policy protected interests of all persons with disabilities and that no child should be excluded from the education system.



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