28 January 2013

Tanzania: Unique Nature of Meru Primary School

Arusha — IT is not easy to impart knowledge to young children by itself, but this gets even more difficult when one tries to teach pupils who cannot speak or hear.

And that, in a nutshell, is a challenge that Mwalimu John Maukiri and other teachers at Meru Primary School, are subjected to face in their daily duties of moulding the current young generation into becoming responsible Tanzanians in future.

Located at the intersection of Makongoro Road and Seth-Benjamin Street in Arusha City, Meru Primary School happens to be the only institution in the Municipality, which runs a special department or essentially classes that deal with children with impaired hearing and speech.

Mwalimu Maukiri, who heads the special department for deaf children with impaired speech and hearing at the Meru Primary, says the school happens to be one of the oldest public learning institutions in Arusha City.

"But the special department did not exist until 1998," revealed Mr Maukiri, adding that even now 15 years later, after its inception, the department's biggest problem was lack of enough and properly trained teachers to handle the children with special needs in addition to suffering inadequate classrooms and teaching aids to educate the children with impaired hearing and speech.

"Our school is the only one in town which runs this special department," said Mr Maukiri. He adds that though the demand is high, the centre can only admit a limited number of children with special needs due to limited facilities and manpower. At the moment Meru Primary caters for 80 pupils with impaired hearing and Speech, but according to the teacher, some parents in Arusha prefer to conceal their handicapped children due to some misguided traditional beliefs or just out of being self-conscious.

"Some are afraid that, since they cannot speak or hear, the children will get lost in town and there are others who do not want their young ones to be stigmatized or ridiculed by other pupils in shared learning environment," continued the teacher. As a result, many of such children start school late like Yusuph Amani who is aged 20 years but is still in Standard Seven.

Yusuph revealed that when his parent sent him to school, he left behind several other children with impaired hearing, but whose parents would rather keep them at home. "The problem is that once these children become too old for school and without any form of education, they end up being beggars and tramps in the streets," warned Yusuph.

"Which just goes to show that the government must establish more centres to cater for the children with special needs," said Mwalimu Maukiri. Apart from the Meru Primary, there are a few other institutions currently taking care of handicapped children in Arusha Region. Uhuru Primary School for instance, has a special department for children with mental disorders.

Outside the City, the Tengeru Teachers College located in Tengeru area of Meru District, has a department for children with physical disability where teaching trainees get exposed to such challenges at the same time also providing education to the needy pupils. Another school which handles pupils with physical disabilities including impaired hearing, sight and speech is the Longido Day and Boarding Primary School, located far in Longido wilderness of Longido District; but other than those four, Arusha region has shortage of these special institutions.

Ms Lilian Martin is one of the teachers working at Meru Primary and she is of the view that, in addition to establishing schools for children with special needs, the government needs to consider the issue of special teaching facilities and training the right teachers to handle the handicapped pupils.

"The children need more than education. They require special attention and minute-by-minute supervision because being more sensitive they tend to be highly affected by any type of treatment directed to them and if the teachers are not careful, the pupils will shut them off their minds for good!" explained the teacher.

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