Last week RESULTS UK led a delegation of UK parliamentarians from the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) Global Education for All to look at education and disability in Kenya. Mark Williams MP (Chair of the APPG), Lord Colin Low (Vice-Chair of APPG), Chris Heaton-Harris MP (Vice-Chair of the APPG) and newly elected MP Mike Wood made up the very interested and engaged group. They spent time in the capital Nairobi and in Kisumu, which is next to Lake Victoria in the west of the country.
Kenya has provided free primary school education to all children since 1963, and the enrolment rate had reached 97% by 2011 but, as with many middle and lower income countries, disabled children are disproportionately represented in the remaining 2 million children out of school. Kenyans believe passionately in the importance of education and this shone through in many of the conversations we had. The country has a new inclusive constitution, which came into affect in 2010, and the Kenyans we met with were rightfully proud of its inclusive nature.
We had the bad luck of coinciding with a teachers’ strike, meaning that we weren’t able to visit any public schools where teaching was actually going on. However, it did mean that we were able to hear more about the politics behind the strike and complications associated with paying special needs teachers (there is a special allowance for special needs teachers teaching in special schools but not for those in mainstream schools which, or course, does not encourage inclusion!).
The group had the opportunity to meet the British High Commissioner, DFID staff and Kenyan parliamentarians, in addition to disabled children, their parents, teachers and other professionals. There were some important key messages that the group received during these visits and meetings.
We saw the importance of good teacher training, as highlighted by a joint DFID/USAID/Ministry of Education funded project called TUSOME (meaning ‘let’s Read’). Pupils and teachers are provided with books and tutors from the Teacher Advisory Centre are provided with tablets to give instructional support to teachers in the classroom. At Baba Dogo school in Nairobi there is a deaf unit and, as part of a project funded by Deafchild Worldwide, they have a teacher who is a deaf sign language user. This teacher is able to make the lessons accessible for the deaf pupils and on Fridays parents attend the class in order to learn sign language with their children.
The group was really struck by the difference parents can make when they believe in their children and what they can achieve and are involved in their children’s education. At a Leonard Cheshire Disability project funded by DFID in Kisumu fathers are particularly encouraged to get involved in supporting their daughters and acting as ‘male mentors’ for other fathers. This is making a real difference because many disabled children are brought up by single mothers as fathers leave the family when the disability is discovered.
We met disabled children being educated at home, in integrated units and in mainstream classrooms. One child we met, Abigail, is deafblind and has cerebral palsy. She is supported by Sense International Kenya to be enrolled in her local school but taught at home. The parents talked about how much both they and Abigail have learnt from her teacher. It was clear that it is very important for a variety of settings to be available to suit the individual needs of children with different and often multiple disabilities.
The stigma surrounding disability came up again and again during the week. We met disabled children and their parents who are overcoming this with mutual support and are also managing to change attitudes in their communities. However many parents (particularly those whose children have multiple disabilities) are not managing to get employment meaning that they are living in poverty.
The UK parliamentarians had the opportunity to meet the Kenyan Parliamentary Committee on Education and to share what they had seen and heard from disabled children, parents and teachers across Kenya. The Committee, despite including members who had been teachers, have not had the opportunity to visit schools and meet people in the way that we did during this delegation so they were very interested to hear what the UK parliamentarians had to say. Members of the Committee are keen to visit the UK and meet parliamentarians here to talk about these issues further and we are hoping to enable this to happen.
This delegation to Kenya gave the group of parliamentarians from the APPG on Global Education the opportunity to really see what it is like for disabled children in Kenya trying to get an education alongside their peers. There are some really good examples of innovative work and real inclusion emerging from the isolation and stigma disabled children have experienced for so long.