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Inclusive education in Malawi is a relatively uncommon subject, yet it is very fundamental in achieving the quality education. Inclusive education requires that all school going students have equal learning opportunities regardless of whether someone has a disability or not.
One benefit of inclusive education is that it increases literacy rates and promotes social-economic development. It also allows learners with disability to be happy at school when they learn in a favorable school environment just as the rest of their peers.
Special needs learners like any other pupils have dreams to accomplish, hence the need for inclusive education. The importance of education in shaping young people to achieve their dreams is unquestionable. Parents on the other hand also wish their children to excel in academics as it is a key to success in life.
Despite that many people are aware of the benefits of inclusive education in Malawi; there are a number of challenges faced in the implementation of inclusive education. There is a huge gap between the inclusive education policy and the work that happens on the ground.
While the policy clearly highlights what should be done and how to ensure that every child has access to quality education little is happening on the ground. In many situations special needs learners are treated like outcasts, they are not fully accommodated in the school environment.
There are many challenges to inclusive education implementation in Malawi. We discuss six challenges faced in inclusive education in Malawi in the paragraphs below. Keep reading.
Lack of special needs teachers/in-service training
Effective learning of students with disabilities cannot be possible without the availability of skilled special needs teachers. The number of specially trained special needs teachers is very inadequate across the country in both primary and secondary schools in Malawi.
Apart from teachers from special needs education schools, the majority of teachers have never received in-service training on special needs education. There is ineffective communication between teachers and students with disabilities when teachers lack knowledge and skills in special need education.
Therefore, inadequate special needs teachers is a hindrance to the effective implementation of inclusive education in schools.
As a way to deal with the problem of shortage of special needs teachers, the government and other stakeholders should mobilize enough resource to train more special needs teachers for Malawian schools. Special needs teachers should be trained and deployed in primary and secondary schools across in all districts in the country.
At least each school should have a qualified special needs teacher. Ongoing in-service training should be organized on regular basis to ensure that teachers are equipped with necessary technical and pedagogical skills in special needs education.
Poverty as a barrier to inclusive education in Malawi
Economic challenges also affect the implementation of inclusive education in Malawi. Poverty is a universal barrier to education for learners with disability as well as all other leaners. However, several research findings reveal that households with children with disabilities are more vulnerable.
This happens because such households spend extra income on health services for children with disabilities. Another research report indicates that half of the children with disabilities in Malawi live with a single parent and other relatives.
Living with extended family or single parent family is in itself an economic burden. It is a challenge because it may mean the families are larger while resources are limited.
Inadequate teaching and learning materials suitable for learners with disability
Adequate learning and teaching materials for special needs learners are crucial in improving the quality of inclusive education in Malawi. Malawi like many other developing countries allocates limited resources for buying assistive devices for learners with disability.
Unavailability of enough teaching materials is one of the challenges faced by teachers in inclusive education in Malawi. While there is a shortage of qualified special needs teachers, the few schools that have special needs teachers have inadequate teaching materials.
Learners with disabilities face the same challenge of not having adequate learning materials. As this post explains half of the households with children with disabilities are poor. Poor households cannot afford to buy assistive devices for their children.
Discrimination towards learners with disabilities
Our culture tends to discriminates leaners with disability by holding a belief that people with disabilities are less human. As a matter of fact, some parents are reluctant to send children with disabilities to schools at the right age. And others prefer to rock their children at home.
Some teachers also have a negative attitude towards learners with disabilities. They believe such leaners cannot effectively learn in the mainstream classrooms. This as a result negatively affects the effectiveness of the student-teacher relationship.
Inaccessible school infrastructure
In many mainstream schools in Malawi, the physical infrastructures are not friendly for people with disabilities. For instance, elevated staircases affect ease of mobility of students with the disability for both those using wheelchairs and those without. As such it is difficult for learners with disability to move around the school campus to access services such as libraries.
School infrastructure is also inaccessible especially in secondary schools where learners travel long distances from home. Again this is a challenge for learners with walking difficulties and it is a barrier to inclusive education in Malawi.
There is a need for government and school owners to renovate existing infrastructure to be suitable for everyone. At the same time, all new schools should be built with consideration of the needs of people with disabilities.
Lack of interest and commitment towards education by learners
Lastly, another reason faced in inclusive education in Malawi is lack of interest and commitment towards education by learners with disabilities. Growing up in an environment which portrays people with disabilities as less able causes children with disability to lose interest in education.
Bullying and insults from peers and other people in the society force some students with disabilities to lose interest and commitment to education. Furthermore, there are few people with disabilities in prominent leadership positions. As such some leaners are discouraged to attend school because they have no role models to motivate them from within their communities.
Additionally, children with disabilities also lose interest in schooling due to overly repeating of classes. The barriers to inclusive education explained above result into poor performance for most learners with disabilities. In turn, low performance leads to students with disabilities repeating classes several times which is boring and demotivating.
Lastly, students with disabilities lose interest in education due to frequent absenteeism which comes due to other health related to some disabilities. Frequent absenteeism means these students mostly stay behind their peers’ progress in the classroom which can be discouraging.
Inclusive education in Malawi is the key to achieving the quality education. All learners with or without learning difficulties should have equal access to education.
Challenges faced in inclusive education in Malawi needs close attention. The challenges such as lack of special needs teachers, lack of assistive devices, and negative attitudes towards people with disabilities should be solved once and for all.
It is the responsibility of every person and in particular, it is the duty of the government to provide quality education to all school going children.
Resolving problems faced in implementing inclusive education in Malawi should be given the attention it deserves. It should be a priority. Leaders should demonstrate a strong political will in dealing with these challenges and make the life of children with disabilities easy at school.