Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the Commonwealth. It continues to face a number of challenges in providing education for its young people. Mainstreaming learners with disabilities or special needs is a relatively new policy in Malawi. Traditionally handled by missionaries or specialist institutions – enrolment of blind, deaf, or physically impaired students and students with learning difficulties is increasing under a new context of inclusiveness. Despite these recent gains, negative community attitudes towards those with disabilities continue to stand in the way of Malawi achieving its goal of providing quality education for all. To combat this, the Department of Special Needs in the Ministry of Education designed an Inclusive Education Advocacy Programme.
The Inclusive Education Advocacy Programme aims to:
- Increase access to schooling for young people living with disabilities;
- Improve quality of special needs education in regular schools; and
- Assess and counsel young people living with disabilities.
Using an approach that looks at the issue of disability holistically, the Department of Special Needs catalyses three district based activities in the neediest areas of the country. The programme features:
- Interactive community sensitisation workshops on the rights of people with disabilities;
- Village-based disability assessment health clinics, and
- Teacher training on inclusive education approaches.
Through the Inclusive Education Advocacy Programme, the Department of Special Needs began the process of changing mind-sets of community decision-makers and teachers. It has resulted in the reduction of discrimination and the elimination of barriers to education facing those with special needs. Through its activities, the Department of Special Needs has improved the access and quality of education for learners with special needs by first training community members and teachers on inclusive education and then empowering them to continue to sensitise their own communities on the same.
Impact and effect
The Department of Special Needs was proud to report that through its pilot activities undertaken in 2011 across two of the 34 districts in Malawi, namely Mangochi and Mwanza:
- 270 teachers have been trained in inclusive education techniques,
- 185 community leaders have been sensitised on disability rights,
- 136 Mothers’ Groups, Parent-Teacher Associations and School Management Committees were oriented on how to create disability infrastructures in their schools and communities, and
- 1,300 potential special needs students were assessed through 19 specially arranged village-based disability health clinics.
The Department of Special Needs continues to receive monthly reports from the field about the activities its local groups have implemented since their training. Additionally, national newspapers, television and radio have provided media coverage of inclusive education activities.
The Inclusive Education Advocacy Programme is a replicable model suitable for other developing countries. The Department of Special Needs has a plan to implement it across all 34 of Malawi’s districts. The Government of Malawi and some non-governmental organisations have expressed interest in supporting the programme in other focus districts. We feel the programme’s success has been due to its emphasis on sustainability, low reliance on resources and ensuring community participation. The Department of Special Needs has facilitated the programme in a further five districts in 2012, training 1,250 people on inclusive education. More districts are planned over the coming months.