Children with disabilities in Gokwe are facing numerous barriers to accessing education, this hinders their potential economic, social, and human development.
Education is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of discrimination, and poverty that children with disabilities often face. However, children with disabilities are less likely to start school, and if they do, they are unlikely to transition to secondary school.
Their access to school is often limited by stigma, lack of understanding of their needs, lack of teacher training, an unconducive school environment, and lack of classroom support, and learning resources.
Community Voices Zimbabwe (CVZ) engaged in a dialogue with persons with disabilities in ward 5 Mapfungautsi area in Gokwe to raise awareness about the significant barriers that persons with disabilities experience in the community, gathering information on how society views them and treat them as well as issues they encounter during a health emergency and humanitarian crisis. It was then that the challenges of accessing education for persons with disabilities came to light.
“My daughter here is in grade 6, she has a hearing problem, and she underwent different operations, while we were advised against using hearing aids because the doctors believed that the operations would work. But she was being left behind in school because she could not hear, up until last year that is when they consented to using hearing aids. However, there is only one school that caters to children with special needs, and that is Gokwe School. I understand the school only has one teacher, but the school caters to the whole of Gokwe South.
“When one gets into the special class, the children have different needs, and that becomes difficult to combine people with different needs. Then you might opt to remove the child and place her in a better school, that becomes difficult because the teachers there won’t have the patience, and some are not trained to teach those special children so everyone in Gokwe, relies on Gokwe school which is a challenge. So I had to transfer my child to Classbell Private School which is very expensive. The challenge here is that they are taking new teachers from college, who are again not qualified to deal with children who have special needs.
“In addition, those teachers will not stay long, and leave for better pastures, this affects children with special needs because they need to adjust to the new teacher. My child here has had four teachers since she was in grade 3, and as it stands she might lose her teacher before writing grade 7. So that is a challenge, we do not have many close schools in Gokwe that caters for children with special needs those schools that can assist him are expensive, and even far that I will be away from her. So I will not feel comfortable due to issues of abuse etc,” said a dejected other who could not be named.
Esther Chikohore left unsatisfied by the treatment leveled against her child at a boarding school in Masvingo and had no option, but to stay with the child at home for this term while planning another strategy.
“My child here learn in Masvingo, they were not treating him well there, and this term I decided against sending him back there. Sometimes when he comes back I notice marks of being assaulted on his body. The majority of the time he comes back very slim, and the authorities do not respond well. Every term he gets admitted to hospital, and I will be called to go and pick him up. He is on treatment, but unfortunately, no one checks on his medication at school,” she said.
“My son who is here had to drop from school because no one liked him at school. He was at CZM, and had to drop out after I realised they were mistreating him. Unfortunately, he cannot even write, if possible we wish there could be practical schools so that they could learn other skills including carpentry, and other relevant skills in life today,” added Mai Eddie.
Speaking during the dialogue, Contilda Mazo said there are some able-bodied children who vandalise children with disabilities’ wheelchairs resulting in many of them being forced to drop off school.
“There are some children with disabilities who go to school on wheelchairs, and often times during
Break-time, or lunch those able-bodied children who take the wheelchairs, and start playing around with them. End result the wheelchairs will be damaged to the extent that the child with a disability is no longer able to go to school. There is a need for teachers to monitor those kinds of situations because when the wheelchair is damaged the school will not do anything to assist in fixing or getting a new one,” she said.
Speaking during the dialogue, Gokwe Deputy Mayor, Charity Mungwani said that there is a need to petition the education officers to attend to this issue by building schools that carter for persons with disabilities.
“On the issue of schools, there is a need for us to keep raising our concerns as persons with disabilities so that government can build a school that caters to those with special needs here in Gokwe. You have the right to petition the District Education Officers, they will take the matters to the provincial education offices until the challenges are addressed to the President. These are not issues we can just discuss here, and keep quiet, but let us see progress after such discussions. This is the advocacy that we are talking about, and we should keep advocating for such issues.
“I am proud of organisations such as ZWIDE, and CVZ here who keep coming to assist us. We should keep advocating for these issues, not behind closed doors, because you want to avoid working with a CCC councilor like me. If we are like that we will never go anywhere, especially women. It does not please me to see you struggling to push your children in wheelchairs on these heavy sands. We should assist each other to push for better roads, even knocking on the council doors to put pressure on the authorities to fix these roads,” said Mungwani.
Speaking in an interview with this reporter Primrose Nyangoni who is the Midlands Coordinator, and Board Secretary for the Association of Disabled, and Elderly Persons in Zimbabwe said there is a need for inclusivity in schools while making sure that all schools have special classes with well-trained teachers for children with special needs.
“…there is a need to have special classes in schools. We are pleading for inclusivity in school institutions for persons with disabilities, and able-bodied children where there will be a special education teacher who will look for the special needs of those children with disabilities.
“…also there is a need for children with disability to be included in the formal education system so that they learn together with others, and have access to those facilities that others have. I can confirm to you that there was a school that had to inform parents of children with disabilities to search for other schools claiming that their children with disabilities would contribute to the low levels of percentage pass rate. So it is sad to realise that there are some children with disabilities who have failed to finish school because the teachers and the heads concluded that the children are unteachable.
“But the government invested in training teachers on special education, there are teachers who have been fully trained to handle children with special needs. Those teachers are there in some schools. If all the schools are capacitated, and be provided with teachers vested in special education, and also be accorded special classes, things will be better for children with disabilities. We need special education in schools, we need special classes in schools,” she said.