Tuesday, March 24, 2015

EFA Revisited

From a recent edition of the Guardian, please check out the following article on the Education for All (EFA) movement, a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth, and adults, in Tanzania.

I feel like some of the needs the writer mentions (curriculum adaptation, new teaching methods, teaching and learning materials, assistive technology, assessment systems) are Toa Nafasi's bread and butter!  We must find a way to spread our gospel and get the word out to other schools.  It can be done!!


Since the early 1960s, "education for all" has been one of the top agendas in all regions of the world.  At that time, children with disabilities were educated in separate classes or in separate schools for "special education."  People got used to the idea that special education meant separate education.

However, inclusive education is currently a topical subject that is widely discussed and debated in the field of education to replace special education.  It has variously been referred to as part of the global Education for All agenda as a new education paradigm and as an educational reform.

Inclusive education happens when children with and without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes.  Research shows that when a child with disabilities attends classes alongside peers who do not have disabilities, good things happen.

The establishment of inclusive education in Tanzania has been challenged as the infrastructure and system available do not support its applicability.

Recently, education stakeholders met to discuss the findings of a baseline study conducted through the Action for Children's Rights in Education (ACRE) project.  The baseline research was conducted by Action Aid Tanzania and the Tanzania Education Network (TEN/MET) in the three districts of Chamwino, Bagamoyo, and Mafia to examine how children's educational rights are practiced in those regions.

The meeting brought together national Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) under the umbrella of Tanzania Education Network, all working in the field of education.  The representatives discussed a variety of topics with special focus on major issues and recommendations brought up in the study.

During that meeting, the stakeholders came up with various criticisms over the establishment of inclusive education in the country and the rights of children in schools.

According to them, the system came without any preparations, meaning that the government did not do any improvement in the environment to enable children with disabilities to study.

The head of the disability department of the Tanzania Teachers' Union (TTU), Peter Mlimahadala, said that the establishment of inclusive education did not go along with the improvement of the learning environment as well as trained teachers and proper equipment.

"Inclusive education is very important to children with disabilities in a number of ways, one being that it helps build self-esteem in them and helps curb stigma as well.  For them, being able to mix with other children makes them feel loved and appreciated too, but what is much needed now is to improve the learning environment for those children so as to make them study well," he said.  Mlimahadala said due to such challenges many of the parents do not register their children to school because they are sure that their children will go to suffer and not study.

"The establishment of inclusive education in the country was just like an announcement with no future.  I wonder why the government is doing things as if they do not know, how it may establish something without any preparations.  This makes many parents even to fear sending their children to school."

For his part, HakiElimu Acting Director, Robert Mihayo said that the government has to also offer trainings of disability to more teachers so that they may take good care of the children with disabilities in schools.

"Teachers with disability skills and trainings are very few in the country, something which puts children with disabilities in difficult environments as many teachers in our schools do not know how to handle them in a special way," he said.

"We also know that simply placing children with and without disabilities together does not produce positive outcomes.  Inclusive education occurs when there is ongoing advocacy, planning, support, and commitment," Mihayo said.

Action Aid Country Director, Yaekob Metena called upon the government to work with all the challenges to ensure that education is accessible to all people.

"Education is a right for everyone, so the government has to improve it by working on all challenges to make it available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable to every child," he said.

"Regular teachers are a key resource in the successful implementation of inclusive education in terms of attitudes and the way they conceptualize teaching in inclusive classrooms," he added.

Metena stressed that every child has a fundamental right to education, and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning and every child has unique characteristics, interests, abilities, and learning needs.

He explained that the guiding principle that informs this framework is that schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic, or other conditions.

This should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote and nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic, or religious minorities, and children from other disadvantaged or marginalized areas or groups.

"However, disabled children need more attention in terms of curriculum adaptation, teaching methods, and availability of teaching and learning materials, assistive technology, assessment systems, as well as funds for more assistance in adapting the school environment," he stressed.

So education systems should be designed and educational programs implemented to take into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs.

Alistidia Kamugisha, a representative from TEN/MET called upon the government to also monitor if capitations grants were reaching to schools as targeted.

"I call upon the authorities to ensure that they monitor well the capitation grants into reaching the targeted people," she said.

She however said that another thing which is bad in the education system is regular changes of curriculum, something which also hinders the students' performance.

"There are regular changes of the education curriculum without even training teachers on those changes so this makes them use outdated curriculum which they are used with because they do not know well about the changed curriculum," she noted.

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