2000 GAM: Disabled Children in Mainstream Schools
The survey on disabled children in the mainstream schools was introduced to assess the problems and constraints that beset both the disabled students and teachers in the learning and physical environments of the schools. This volume of the 1998 National Disability Survey gives information on the type of disability among children in mainstream schools, their coping strategies and issues of normalisation.
Purpose / Objective
The main objective of this section of the National Disability Survey, 1998, was to examine the utilisation of mainstream primary schools by parents for the education of their disabled children. As such, issues of capacity and limitation of the primary schools in meeting the needs and demands for the disabled children are assessed. Capacity issues examined dealt with the integration and normalisation efforts within the primary school cycle. Efficiency of the schools in terms of registration, retention, acquisition of basic life and learning skills for disabled children and dropouts have also been examined for the ultimate development of an integrated education scheme.
The country was divided into two parts: the Western part, which has nearly 50% of the population and 34% of all the schools, and the rest of the country. 17 schools were selcted from the Western part wtih 15,685 pupils or 12.6% of the overall enrolment; 42 schools were selected from the rest of the country with 10,909 pupils or 8.7% of overall enrolment. The survey covered 717 children with disabilities from age 5 to 19 years.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The data reveals that 25.7 percent of the disabled children in the mainstream schools are partially sighted. Children with significant speaking problems constitute 12.3 percent, significant mobility problems 8.9 percent, hard of hearing 5.4 percent, and significant manipulation and fits problems 3.7 percent each.
A major finding of the study suggests that there is a total lack of special facilities and services to enhance the educational environment of the disabled children in the mainstream schools. These lack of facilities and services range from untrained and specialised teachers, lack of ramps for easy access of the classrooms for the physically disabled and toilets to suit the needs of the disabled. As a result of the lack of untrained and specialised teachers, most of the schools do not have the capacity to tailor the timetables to suit the needs of the disabled children. Teachers lack basic knowledge of how to operate technical aid or equipment in case the disabled children need help. Nationally, the data show only 35.5 percent of the teachers have the knowledge of how to operate the technical aids or equipment.
The schools have criteria for selection of teachers to teach disabled children. About 36.5 percent of the schools reported that one of the criteria for selecting teachers to teach disabled children is "most qualified and experienced" whilst 15.4 percent reported that one of the criteria is "more sympathetic and caring teachers". About 44.4 percent of the schools did not answer the question.
The analysis also reveals that 89 percent of the schools reported that there are no set criteria for the admission of disabled children in the mainstream schools. Admission is mostly based on the non-severity of the disability. However, 20 percent of the schools said that a prior assessment or recommendation by a specialised school or institution is required, while 40 percent of schools reported that they do not admit blind and deaf children.
There was virtually no socio-cultural or psychological barrier between disabled children and their normal classmates in mainstream schools. There is a general acceptance of persons with disabilities in Gambian schools. The behaviour of disabled children in class and school is extremely high, as 93 percent of the head teachers interviewed said disabled children behaved well in both school and class. The head teachers rated disabled children's behaviour towards normal children at 94.7 percent. Likewise, their co-operation during work was also rated at 95.2 percent.
It is worth mentioning that peer harassment and discrimination against disabled children in mainstream schools is not serious. For example, 36.5 and 53.8 percent of the schools rated complaints of peer harassment and discrimination of disabled children as "never" and "rarely" respectively. By contrast, only 3.8 percent of the schools reported that peer harassment and discrimination of disabled children do occur "frequently". About 6 percent of the schools did not answer the question.
On the academic performance of the disabled children vis a vis the normal children, 73.3 percent of the head teachers rated it as good. Similarly, communication in class between disabled children and teachers was also rated high. Nationally, however, the repetition for the disabled children in the mainstream schools is about 10 percent. This rate is two-and-a-half times higher than the target repetition rate of 4 percent in the current education policy.
The child-teacher communication was quite good; for example, disabled children's understanding of what their class teachers say was rated at 78.3 percent, whereas the teachers' understanding of what the disabled children say using normal speech was rated at 87.1 percent. By contrast, for children not understanding what the teachers say and the teachers not understanding what the children say using normal speech, was each rated at 21.7 and 12. 9 percent.
According to the data, on average, 22.7 percent of the disabled children in the mainstream schools dropped out in the first five years. This drop-out rate compares favourably with the overall drop-out rate for the last five years for all students irrespective of whether they are disabled or not. Disabled children who survived up to terminal class with satisfactory performance were estimated at around 29.2 percent.
Overall, about 46 percent of the schools reported that the parents or guardians of the disabled children never visit the schools or classes to discuss the progress or otherwise of the disabled children. Only 11 percent of the schools reported that parents regularly visit compared to 41.4 percent that reported that parents occasionally visit. In terms of gender, disabled male children, in general, tend to be visited more on either a regular or occasional basis by parents at the school or class than disabled female children. These statistics are quite disturbing indeed. The question that comes to mind is, do the statistics reflect the fact that parents or guardians do not take keen interest in the education of their female disabled children?
Finally, notwithstanding the lack of capacity and facilities for integrating disabled children in the mainstream schools, 71.2 percent of the head teachers rated the current efforts at integration as a success. Only 17.3 percent did not see it as a success and 11.5 percent failed to answer the question. On the general assessment of the integrated approach by the head teachers, 69.1 percent recommend "the integrated approach", 13.4 percent recommend "resource centres", 9.4 percent are in favour of "special units" and 9.0 percent recommend "special schools" for the disabled.
- Government should encourage NGOs for inter-sectoral collaboration on special education and rehabilitation support service delivery system.
- In collaboration with the Department of State for Education and the Gambia College, it is recommended that the Peace Corps help in training teachers on special education.
- The Department of State for Education should help to set up youth clubs and movements for the support of the disabled in schools and the community at large.
- The Department of State for Education should encourage NGOs to give support to students in the mainstream schools with special education needs.
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