Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe: What guides us without a policy framework?

By Barbra Nyangairi | September 12th, 2016
Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe: What guides us without a policy framework?
“Inclusive education can be seen as a process of strengthening the capacity of an education system to reach out to all learners. It is, therefore, an overall principle that should guide all educational policies and practices, starting from the belief that education is a fundamental human right and the foundation for more just society” UNESCO, 2008
 
Inclusive education is a rights-based approach to education which appreciates diversity among learners and their unique educational needs. Inclusive education centres its efforts on children who are vulnerable and prone to exclusion and marginalisation. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Zimbabwe conducted a study in 2015 and reported that over 1.2 million children are out of school. Children with disabilities, orphans and children with special needs fall in this category of children who may be excluded from the education system. If we go by UNESCO statistics that children with disabilities account for a third of school children, we can infer that over 300 000 children with disabilities are out of school. In this article, I will focus on children with disabilities. 
 
Inclusive education seeks to create an environment that meets the needs of children with disabilities. This is a shift from the medical model that emphasises the impairment of the person. While Zimbabwe has made efforts to provide education for children with disabilities, the model that has informed most efforts has been the charity and the medical model. These have influenced the nature and mode of education provided to children with disabilities in Zimbabwe; these education efforts have not been transformational. People with disabilities are over-represented among the poor in the country and a significant number are functionally illiterate. While existing efforts are noble, they are not backed or supported by policy. Calls for inclusive education have found strength in circulars and other pronouncements that are not based on policy. Inclusive education requires us to address attitudinal and environmental barriers to learning and participation. Attitudes and environmental barriers have been major obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to education for children with disabilities. 
 
The lack of a policy on inclusive education in Zimbabwe has resulted in fragmented and unhelpful efforts that have not improved educational outcomes for children with disabilities. The lack of a policy framework has also resulted in inadequate accommodations of the different needs of learners with disabilities. An inclusive education policy in Zimbabwe will enable our education system to be measured against the following principles of inclusive education:
  • A belief in each child’s potential, that children do not learn in the same way, but that every child must be supported to reach their fullest potential. 
  • Inclusive education involves a human rights based approach which recognises that there are barriers in society which we have to remove to ensure all children achieve their full potential. 
  • Inclusive education provides an opportunity for continuous improvement in the education system, changing classroom practice and empowering schools and teachers to be able to meet the needs of learners. 
  • Identifying and addressing discriminatory practices and attitudes to reduce barriers to learning and participation. 
  • Inclusive schools contribute to the creation of inclusive communities; inclusive communities accept diversity and remove barriers. 
 
While the government of Zimbabwe has adopted inclusive education these calls have not been successful as students, have not had the necessary support to learn in mainstream settings. Inclusion without the necessary support is equal to dumping children in classrooms. The system has not provided for sign language support for children who are deaf and who use sign language, nor braille and other support for visually impaired students nor physical access for children with physical disabilities. Consequently, children with disabilities have been denied access to education and for those who have accessed schools their experience has been one that amounts tokenism with no real learning taking place. For children with disabilities, exclusion is systemic and starts early in life due to the lack of facilities, accommodations and attitudes that are barriers to inclusion. The lack of an inclusive education policy has resulted in the child with a disability being viewed as the problem and therefore a burden to the school system instead of the education system having a problem that needs to be solved by accommodating children with disabilities. 
 
Finally, for Zimbabwe’s education system to be more child centred and to achieve Education for All, Zimbabwe needs an Inclusive Education Policy. This policy will provide guidance and a support framework that enables the implementation of inclusive education in Zimbabwe. This should be developed collaboratively with policy makers, education practitioners, civil society, political and religious leaders and the media. All these stakeholders have a part to play in the development of an inclusive educational system that ensures that every learner achieves their potential and lives a productive and fulfilled life. 
 
Education is often said to play a key role in determining how one spends one’s adult life – a higher level of education often translates into higher earnings, better health, and a longer life. UNESCO
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