Players call for increased special education funding

Monday, August 16th, 2021 00:00 |
Funding to key special needs programmes has reduced in recent fiscal years. Photo/COURTESY

Education stakeholders have petitioned the government to increase resource allocation to support special needs learning programmes.

The sector players who spoke to Scholar underscored the need to earmark additional funds to support operations in the special needs schools with a view of delivering transformative quality basic education.

They cited inadequate funds, facilities and personnel as key challenges hurting operations in various schools handling special needs learners.

Consequently, the education actors want more resources channeled to the learning institutions to effectively deal with glaring challenges, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dorothy Ogaga, a curriculum support officer in charge of special needs in Kisumu, says the government should consider injecting more funds to support the education sub-sector, which is a considerably critical segment of basic education.

Dorothy coordinates Kisumu county Educational Assessment and Resource Centre (EARC) department, which identifies and assesses learners with special needs and disabilities before placing them in learning centres or referring them to medical institutions.  The organisation also conducts capacity building for teachers on how to handle learners with special needs.

She argues that her organisation  is financially constrained to efficiently carry out its operations.

Despite the dire need for assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and sanitary towels by the learners with disabilities, she says EARC IS unable to offer immediate support due to funds inadequacies.

The shortage of funds is also curtailing their efforts to respond to the pressing needs of parents with special needs children.

Transport challenges

“It is saddening to see some parents carrying their physically challenged children on their backs to care centres. Some children are as old as 15 or more years old, and their parents have to bear the burden of carrying them, often times for long distances to school. Most of them cannot afford to pay for transport and wish they can be supported. This is a justification why we need more financial support to trickle down to the sub-sector,” she explained.

“We are also experiencing a shortage of manpower in management of special needs learning,” she added.

Dorothy blames lack of involvement of the department in the planning programmes for children with disability at the county level as a gap affecting delivery of services for learners with special needs.

The State Department for Early Learning and Basic Education, which facilitates access to special needs education at primary and secondary levels, earmarked a total of Sh4.7 billion for special needs education at primary level between the 2016/17 and 2020/21 financial years. While budget allocations increased by two per cent in both 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years, they reduced by eight per cent and six per cent in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years respectively. Allocations for special needs education has been reducing over time.

An analysis of government budget allocations to disability inclusion programmes in Kenya in a recent report by Development Initiatives funded by the UK government over the period of financial years 2016/17 to 2020/21concludes that key special needs programmes, are not adequately funded. 

“The continued increase in funding gaps is likely to negatively affect efforts to ensure inclusive education,” the report said.

Unpaid arrears

Rosemary Omondi, headteacher Lutheran Special School for the Mentally Handicapped, says allocating more funds would help learning institutions address underlying operational challenges.

She points out that an injection of more resources in the subsector will go a long way in supporting implementation of related activities, including procurement of learning equipment to enable delivery of requisite life skills to learners.

The school is grappling with shortage of training equipment, personnel, and even medication for the children.

“We also have an outstanding water bill of about Sh800 million that has accrued over the years,” she says.

As a result, critical services remain crippled after water supply to the institution was cut by the Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company over the arrears, forcing the school to use an alternative water source from a nearby borehole. 

“The school lacks equipment to offer the right skills to the learners. We are given grants by the government that only caters for their food and salaries for the support staff, which is hardly enough to serve this purpose,” Rosemary says.

She adds that children with special needs have different abilities and need all sorts of equipment to facilitate hands-on skills to help them become independent and cater for themselves in life.

To reverse the trend, the headteacher recommends that such schools should be empowered to start sheltered workshops where the special needs children can be equipped with life skills to help them earn a living after they exit. 

“Parents educate their children expecting them to provide support in future or earn a living for themselves, which in most cases do not apply to the learners here, because of the existing gaps in the delivery of skills,” she stated.

Similarly, she says such facilities could also generate income to the schools. “This is a segment of learners who are not understood by the community, starting with their parents who feel that they are a burden to them. Therefore, it is prudent they be empowered by preparing them with adequate skills to face the future,” says Rosemary.

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