Pangani Integrated Primary School-The plight of the physically challenged pupils in integrated schools
Jessy Njeri (not her real name) rolls on her mattress, tactfully placed at the back of her class at Pangani Integrated Primary School.
It is 5pm and the autistic girl is waiting for someone to pick her up. She is also has a problem with her spinal cord, a situation that has left her crippled.
She cannot talk and can barely sit in a wheel chair. She spends most of the time confined to a mattress at the corner of her class where she can easily stretch after attending therapy sessions in the school.
Jessy can only lift her head and smile at the sound of an opening door, perhaps relieved that she is being picked up although it is three hours since her classes ended.
“Transport is the biggest challenge facing parents who at times pick up their children late from school since they cannot board matatus on their own,” the school’s head teacher, Arubina Mukobe says.
Pangani Integrated Primary School has two wings – one that caters for regular pupils and a second one for children with special needs. Most of the 185 pupils in the special wing are autistic while others are mentally challenged and the rest physically disabled.
The school is understaffed, with 15 teachers including the head teacher and her deputy. The ratio of teachers to pupils in school is 1:17 against the stipulated 1:4 for children with special needs.
Only one of them is male and he handles 97 boys, teaching them how to behave. “Most of the pupils we train are violent and difficult to handle,” Ms Mukobe says. “We had to reduce the number of employees as specified by the Ministry of Education and this has made the situation worse.”
The pupils are forced to share regular toilets with children from the regular school. Thankfully, new toilets are being constructed. A vocational structure has also been put up among other unfinished facilities, including the dining hall and kitchen.
“The vocational centre, which was built by the Ministry of Education, is complete and awaits commissioning but we need to equip it,” she says. “We hope these structures that are awaiting completion by the county government will soon be complete to pave way for these learners to enjoy some comfort.”
The dormitories too, which were put up so that learners can board to avoid transport challenges every morning, are incomplete. “When school closes, these children are often locked up in houses and are susceptible to defilement. Once the dormitories are equipped, it will ease this burden,” says the head teacher.
The situation, according to the teacher in charge of Nakuru Integrated Programme for the visually impaired, Miriam Mwololo is similar in most integrated schools in the county.
“Integration is the best idea: it however needs total support from country and national governments,” she says.
Although it is the only way to eradicate stigma and encourage relationship between the regular pupils and those with special needs, most of the schools still lack facilities, including toilets and learning material,” she says.
At Menengai Integrated Primary School where Ms Mwololo is based, 17 of the pupils are visually impaired but lack special learning facilities.
“The pupils lack special toilets. They risk their lives using pit latrines,” she says. Ms Mwololo also covers 15 other schools within the county that have visually impaired learners.
They include Nakuru High School, Moi Forces Academy, Jomo Kenyatta, Subukia Primary, Kabazi Primary, Lions Primary, Hill Crest, Murungaru Secondary among others.
“The learners are doing well but the challenge still lies on the teachers to teach them how to use the Braille. Getting reading material is a big challenge,” Mwololo says.
And while education in public primary schools is free, at Pangani Integrated Primary School’s special wing, parents have to chip in to cater for lunch and upkeep as the money allocated by the ministry is not enough.
“Initially, we were allocated Sh1.5 million by the Government but we received Sh1.2 million this year. The amount is too little to pay employees and cater for food for the entire year. We often ask parents for Sh3, 000 a term to top up the food budget and also pay some of the casual employees,” Mukobe says.
But only 50 parents of the 185 learners are able to pay. “The pupils need to eat well but we are overstretched because of the little funding which cannot support us for even three months,” she says.
According to Joseph Madero, a parent, the situation requires intervention. “These children need a lot of attention and the school cannot run without casual employees who help around, and that is why we chip in as parents. We also have to pay more to cater for lunches,” he says.
He says the Government should make education cheaper for children with special needs. There is also the stigma that is often attached to those living with disability, with some neighbours pointing fingers.
“It can take even a year for a child to attend school, but if the boarding facility is equipped, it will be easier for them to be maintained in school,” Mr Madero says.
Nakuru County Director of Education Isaac Atebe admits that the Education Ministry has started several projects and is in the process of facilitating them. “Most schools are integrated and we are encouraging parents to embrace the idea,” Mr Atebe says.
The integrated schools are supplied with special teachers for the children with special needs. They are also paid allowances based on the kind of duties they perform.
Special schools have a slightly bigger allocation, Atebe says, and adds that there has been a challenge integrating those with visual challenges as they require facilities such as the Braille and teachers with special skills.
“There are challenges in integrating those with visual impairment because of their special needs. However, in other integrated schools, the Government and schools’ boards of management have been funding the projects,” he says.