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Zimbabwe, 27 March 2015: School improvement grants helping children with disabilities access education

© Richard Nyamanhindi/UNICEF 2015
At Capota School of the Blind, School Improvement Grants have been used to purchase furniture and musical instruments.

By Richard Nyamanhindi

Sixteen year-old Onai (which ironically means to see) grew up being told she was cursed by God. Blind and deaf from birth, she spent most of her time locked up in the house in rural Masvingo in south Zimbabwe, often sitting motionless in the dark for hours.

She was left alone as her siblings went to school and the adults worked the fields. When she needed to move, Onai used to bump into obstacles, some which left her with scars for life. From the threshold of her house she was a loner who could not play and have fun with other children.

For a child of her age, Onai looked gaunt and lifeless. Most days, she was fed just once. Friendless and neglected, she lacked nutrition, hygiene, clothing and care.

Her family saw her as a life-long liability they wish they never had. They did not see any value in sending her to school for the bother of accompanying her and the challenges she would face - being mocked by other children at school.

In 2007, however life changed for Onai when she was sent to Capota School of the Blind in Masvingo. Since then, she has been learning how to communicate and has been making steady progress. She can now count, knit, cook, take instruction and even plays with other children her age.

Educating children with disabilities such as Onai is a modern-day challenge for many parents and schools in Zimbabwe especially those in rural areas. According to the 2012 Zimbabwe Census Report, a small proportion (1% to 10%) of children with special needs have ready access to schooling, and those who do typically attend segregated schools.

Capota School of the Blind, established in 1939 is one of the largest institutions catering for the visually impaired in Zimbabwe and is home to over 200 students with special needs who are taught self-help projects such as art, woodwork, craft and metalwork, among other life skills.

Among its main objectives is to educate and rehabilitate visually handicapped pupils. However, the infrastructure at Capota is in disrepair resulting in increased inequalities among children with disabilities. This has resulted in high dropout rates especially among girls as the school have resorted to charging fees and levies in order to stay afloat.

In light of the challenges facing special needs schools and other poor rural schools, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and UNICEF under the Education Development Fund (EDF) – a multi-donor pool of funds providing schools such as Capota with financial resources through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) to address their most basic needs. The objective is to make sure that they meet a set of school functionality criteria so that they improve the quality of teaching and learning and reduce user fee costs for vulnerable pupils such as Onai.

According to Mrs. Nomsa Ziyenge, the Deputy School Head of  Capota School, the SIG funding has enabled them keep more vulnerable children with disabilities in school after receiving US$20 000 in 2014.

“We are very grateful for the SIG funds, as they have enabled us to keep an increased number of children with special needs in school. Children with disabilities are subject to profound levels of poverty, exclusion and discrimination in Masvingo which is marked by deprivation and harmful practices rooted in traditional beliefs,” said Mrs. Ziyenge.

“The majority of parents with disabled children abandon their children here at the school. This has inevitably put a strain on the few resources that we have and SIG has lessened the burden,” added Mrs. Ziyenge.

Special needs schools are receiving twice more in SIG than a secondary school funding due to the specialized equipment and rehabilitation that they need to do if compared to ordinary schools around the country. Capota School for example, received SIG funding in 2013 and 2014 and will receive the same amount of US$20 000 in 2015.

In addition to paying fees to children left out of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), Capota used the SIG funding to buy braille paper, furniture, musical equipment and computers and did some minor water and sanitation repairs – something that has greatly improved the quality of education at the school.

“The school Improvement Grants have really brought significant change to our school. We sat and agreed as the school authorities with the School Development Committee and the children and mapped and prioritized our needs in a comprehensive School Development Plan (SDP). All the improvements that we are doing are coming from that plan,” noted Mrs. Ziyenge.

SIG funding has also allowed Capota School to intensively engage the community in providing a web of support. Through the SDP, the school is engaging more with teachers, local officials, community leaders and parents to improve the education of children with disabilities in the Province.

However, the school is facing a number of problems. On top of the list is the lack of resources. This has affected enrolment as most pupils have been forced to dropout as BEAM funding has been limited in the past two years. Once the children dropout, finding another school that caters for their needs in next to impossible, so they are disadvantaged for life.

Children have the same human right to develop their potential and access education. Yet despite this, children with disabilities such as Onai are still less likely to start school, have lower rates of school attendance, and fewer chances to achieve higher levels of education. SIG has potential to improve the lives of these children and already significant changes are becoming apparent.




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