One of the main problems in writing about special needs education in Africa is a lack of documentation at all levels. Very few evaluation studies seem to have been done. However, that does not mean that children with special needs are being ignored by educators.
[Photo credit: Allison Stillwell under ]
The education of pupils with special educational needs in Africa
At a conference in Manchester, UK in 2000 a paper was presented by C.E.J. Grol on ‘The Education of Pupils with Special Educational Needs in Africa, looked at within the African context’. The paper is on the conference site (click the link above). This paper should be a good starting point for anyone interested in Special Needs Education in Africa, and the extensive bibliography should be very helpful if you can get a copy of books and papers through inter-university loan.
In this paper Grol critically looked at special needs education projects in Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Grol describes two approaches to special needs education – segregation and inclusion and cites the periodical ‘Special Needs Education’ published by the Uganda National Institute of Special Education (UNISE), a department of the Makarere University in Kampala.
1. Special Education’ suggests a “special”, segregated approach to the education of pupils with Special Educational Needs; an education in schools and/or institutions for special education only.
2. ‘Special Needs Education’ indicates the education of pupils with SEN within an inclusive environment. This educational approach distinguishes between two types:
2.1. ‘Mainstreaming/ Integration’: an approach by which pupils with SEN are integrated in different ways in normal schools. This approach tends to rely on a relatively small number of ordinary schools being equipped with the resources to admit pupils with SEN.
2.2. ‘Inclusion’: an approach by which all ordinary schools cater for pupils with SEN as well. All schools include pupils with physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic, sensory or other needs.
There is debate about both these options. Some disabilities are easier to accommodate in mainstream schools than others. Africa has a history of inclusion of physical disablement in mainstream schooling and it is not unusual to see children in wheelchairs or on crutches attending mainstream schools. However, the article shows that the Danish educator Kristensen, whilst arguing for inclusion, also makes the argument for segregation in special classes for pupils with particular special needs such as deaf pupils and pupils with severe mental problems, pupils with autism, pupils with profound emotional disturbances and pupils with multiple disabilities.
Grol also covers issues such as the African curriculum, Teachers in Africa and The medium of instruction in Africa. This last point he argues that
Observations have discovered that the formal education medium of instruction is frequently not even the second, but the third or fourth language of a pupil. It might be obvious that language policy actually leads to SEN in Africa.
Grol further discusses African attitudes towards children with disability and develops a diagram which shows the isolation and neglect many children with disabilities face, derived from Hop, M. 1996. Attitudes towards Disabled Children in Botswana: An Action Research into the Attitudes of Students and Batswana in general. Research Project Masters Degree Special Educational Needs. Utrecht: Hogeschool van Utrecht/ Seminarium voor Orthopedagogiek.
The diagram is shown below. I assume that by ‘witchcraft’ Grol is referring to ‘traditional religion’ or belief system. Grol makes some rather sweeping statements and generalities in this part of the discussion. He refers to ‘traditional African society’ as if it is homongenous and refers to ‘African religious life’ again as if it was homogenous. The reality is that African society is varied across the continent as is African religious life which includes varieties of so-called World religions and traditional religions. The comments he makes may hold for Botswana, but certainly do not do so across the continent as a whole. Having said that, if we look past the specific Botswanan beliefs and consider more general social constructions and beliefs about disability then the rest of the diagram may be useful. All children have a right to be educated and to be nurtured to reach their potential in life. The barriers to that happening may include societal feelings and behaviours which can result in isolation and lack of integration.
An additional resource which may be helpful is: Disability and Social Responses in Some Southern African Nations which is an extensive bibliography. Other bibliographies can be found from the Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange Annotated Bibliographies