By Meritt Buyer
Tanzania has surprisingly strong education and disability policies. On paper, it appears that the opportunities for children with disabilities to attend school would be plentiful. Here are some examples:
- The Law of the Child Act (2009) ensures that children with disabilities are given equal opportunities to education.
- The Persons with Disability Act (2010) calls for improvement of infrastructure in schools to create a disability friendly environment.
- The National Disability Policy (2004) states that ‘the government in collaboration with stakeholders shall provide a conducive environment for inclusive education that takes care of special needs of disabled children.’
- The above National Policy led to the Strategic Plan of Inclusive Education (2012) that was developed to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to education. [i]
Despite the good intentions of policy makers, only 0.35 percent of all children enrolled in primary school are children with disabilities. In secondary schools, 0.3 per cent of boys and 0.25 percent of girls have disabilities. These percentages are extremely low, given that 7.8 percent of the Tanzanian population is estimated to have a disability.[ii] For those children with disabilities who do enroll, regular attendance is often extremely difficult.
‘Special units’ (the local term for special education classrooms) are few and far between. There are only four in in the whole Moshi Municipality, including the BCC inclusive education classroom at Moshi Primary School that opened just over a year ago. These classrooms function four mornings a week instead of the full five days, except for the BCC classroom which maintains the full schedule. Parents site transport as one of the main barrier to education. Unless children live within walking distance of one of these programs, their chances being able to attend school are almost non-existent. And depending on the child’s ability to walk or obtain a good wheelchair, ‘walking distance’ shrinks exponentially. We have also had parents complain that they don’t feel safe sending their young, intellectually disabled, daughters to school with older boys, with good reason. Girls with disabilities are at a very high risk for sexual abuse.
Even where these special units exist, quality education is often lacking. The stigma that children with disabilities cannot learn is still widespread. In fact, it is so entrenched that many local special education teachers don’t see the potential in their own students. One special education recently stated, “These kids don’t need education, they just need therapy.”
Not only is the lack of education a problem in the schools, but the issue has become apparent in the BCC centers as well. This year’s annual service quality education showed a continuing weakness in the area of education. Centers are evaluated in four areas, Health, Education, Records, and Physical Environment. While the scores in the Health category rose significantly this year, the Education scores continued to decline.
There are only three BCC centers where children have access to one of the special units. Thus, the children’s only hope for any kind of education is through the centers. BCC is therefore under a sincere obligation not only to help our children access public education, but to provide quality education services in our centers.
Many of the center staff makes an effort to teach basic numbers and letters. However, since they do not understand the very basic teaching and behavior modification strategies such as positive reinforcement, successive approximations, and motivation, the students do not make any progress. This only reinforces stigma that they cannot learn and the staff becomes discouraged. It’s a terrible cycle, but one that the BCC program staff is determined to break.
After carefully observing the lessons, or lack there of in the center, analyzing the results of the evaluations, and researching options. BCC and Mosaic staff has developed a strategy to improve education in the centers and increase access to the public school programs for select children.
Training is the top priority within this strategy. We have identified phenomenal local sources who can provide training on the basic of teaching, communication, play, and behavior medication, that we are certain will make drastic improvements in our centers. These local organizations and teachers are more than willing to assist us as soon as we can raise the money.
In addition, we are working with parents, parishes, and local supports to improve transport options so our children can attend the public schools with their peers. Despite the a fact the quality of education may be low in the special units, it is so important for these children to have the opportunity to be included in the community and we will continue to advocate for improvement.
On National Literacy Day, we want to be honest about the challenges facing the children of BCC and Tanzania. Under the current circumstances, the chances that they will learn to read and write are slim. But at the same time, we are hopeful. We have made significant steps towards identifying the problems and plans for addressing them. We believe that with your participation change (and books, pencils, and educational toys) is possible.
[i] Right to Education Country Factsheetm http://www.right-to-education.org/sites/right-to-education.org/files/resource-attachments/RTE_Country_Facsheet_Tanzania_January_2015.pdf, 8/9/2016