Small steps towards school for all

In Zanzibar teachers use problem-based action-research to make schools more accessible for all children, including those with disabilities or learning difficulties. Traditionally, children who were deemed “uneducable” were simply left at home, NAI guest researcher Said Juma explains.

The idea of inclusive education calls for an education system where everyone is taught in the same classroom regardless of learning ability.

“All children, including those with disabilities and learning difficulties, should get education at their neighborhood school and not be sent far away to special schools”, Juma says.

In Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa, the government began to introduce inclusive education into the school system in 2004. Since then eight out of Zanzibar’s 800 schools have been equipped with special classrooms for children with disabilities. An equally important task, says Said Juma, has been to educate teachers and raise public awareness about the right of all children to go to school.

Starting to change
In the past in Zanzibar, children with disabilities or learning difficulties were most often deemed unfit for school education.

“Little by little people are starting to change their attitudes”, Juma says.

Said Juma. Photo: Mattias Sköld

When inclusive education was introduced most teachers were not prepared to teach inclusively, they thought that children with disabilities needed separate teaching arrangements.

“To give teachers necessary support is crucial for realizing actual inclusive teaching,” Juma notes.

Research by practitioners
Another strategy is to identify and solve existing hurdles by using what is known as collaborative action-research. In contrast to conventional research which is performed by experts, problems are identified and solved by the practitioners themselves, says Juma who is leading action-researcher teams at two different schools.

In one school teachers noted that children with sight impairment were left out during some classes. How to teach geography to a child who cannot see the map? After consulting teachers with experience from special education and introduction of physical geography tools the sight impaired children were no longer excluded.

Inclusive education is about increasing access, participation and achievement of all learners, Juma says.

“Generally, inclusive education is now progressing in Zanzibar. There is growing awareness that all children have the right to go to school.”

TEXT: MATTIAS SKÖLD

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