ENTEBBE. Raising a child with special needs can be an uphill task for many parents.
This is similar to the teachers, who shape them into useful citizens.
Ms Christine Mugwanya, a sign language teacher, is the head teacher of the government-aided Entebbe Children’s Welfare School.
“It is really challenging to teach children with disabilities. It takes a lot of hard work and patience because they (children with disabilities) are slow learners yet we have few instructors,” she said during an interview on Wednesday.
Currently, the school has 74 children of which 12 are deaf. But out of the available nine teachers at the school, only one can teach learners with hearing complications.
According to Ms Mugwanya, the pupils study in groups ranging from A to F.
“The reason why we categorise them into groups is because one pupil can be 17 years old but studying in a Nursery class. So, telling him or her that you are in Nursery, they feel offended. But still ,you find that one is in a certain group for years and when he feels tired of that class, he moves to another group,” she said.
Learners under the group A category, are those who can hardly respond to instructions, while those in Group B are an equivalent of those in Nursery class.
Under the same arrangement, learners in Group C are considered to be equivalent to those in Primary One, learners in Group D are equivalent to those in Primary Two in ordinary schools, while Group E is for learners with hearing impairments.
Group F is equivalent to Primary Four though some learners under this category, according to Ms Mugwanya are academically weak and perform poorly whenever they are given tests.
“So, that is why we chose to teach all of them hands-on skills regardless of their groups like making necklaces because they cannot concentrate for long in a class environment,” she said. After classes, which usually end at noon, learners go for lunch and later engage in co-curricular activities such as knitting, tailoring and cookery.
According to Ms Lillian Tuhumwire, who handles Group F, some learners can spend three years without knowing how to write their names.
“You hear one is in Group F but still can’t perform well, but I try to make them produce what I want from them. Some can’t write and read. We face a lot of challenges though it is our work as teachers to get the best out of them,’’ Ms Tuhumwire said.
Ms Florence Mukebezzi, who teaches Art and Design at the school, said the lessons equips learners with practical skills.
“Although many take a lot of time to come up with a design you want, we have realised that majority love practical lessons more than theory,’’ She added.
Ms Mugumya said all children with disabilities are maintained in the boarding section and this explains why 50 out of 74 stay at the school.
This saves them from being knocked by vehicles as they cannot hear their movements. A few who sleep at their homes are escorted to the school by parents or guardians every day. Day scholars are charged Shs55,000 for meals, while those in boarding section pay Shs300,000.
She said all learners are fed on a special diet, which is expensive.
Considering the heavy expenses they incur to cater for the learners, Ms Mugumya said they need enough funding from what they currently get.
She complains that the money received from government is far below the required amount.
Currently, the school only receives Shs587,945 from government every after three months of which Shs200,000 and Shs300,000 is spent on clearing both power and water bills respectively.
“Due to disabilities of our learners, we are forced to leave lights on in their dormitories all the time, many also don’t know how to use water taps, they usually leave water flowing thus incurring extra costs,” she said.
She explained that much of the financial support comes from well-wishers and sometimes teachers contribute to pupils’ well-being.
“Our school is mostly supported by well-wishers like Kenya Ports Authority, rotary clubs, African Gold Refinery and many others. Those are the ones currently constructing for us classrooms, but still we need more support,’’ Ms Mugwanya said.
The well-wishers are also the ones who provide the school with braille paper and machines. Braille machines are very expensive for ordinary parents, according to Ms Mugumya each goes for about Shs2.6 million.
What is the government doing?
According to Ms Sarah Ayesiga, the acting assistant commissioner of Special Needs Education in the Ministry of Education, government is in the process of recruiting sign language interpreters to address the staffing gaps in all schools with learners with specials needs across the country.
“We are already in the process and only waiting for Cabinet approval,” she said by telephone on Wednesday.