15 February 2013

Namibia: Special Needs for Special Children


IN Namibia we define special education or special needs education as the education of students/learners with special needs in a way that addresses their unique individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process in the Namibian education sector should involve a systematic and monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment(s) and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions designed to help learners or students with special needs achieve higher levels of personal self-sufficiency and success in a school and community than would be available if the student(s) or leaner(s) were only given access to typical or regular classroom education.

In Namibia common special needs currently include challenges with learning, communication, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders. Children with disabilities in Namibia indeed benefit to a lesser extent from additional educational services such as different approaches to teaching, use of technology, a specifically adapted teaching area, or resource room, thanks to the late Dr Abraham Iyambo's philosophy of inclusive education for all Namibians.

However, certain hurdles are still to be overcome given the current education system, which has little regard especially for children with special needs. More often than not, some still regard regular education as gifted education and special education as stagy education. Namibia still faces a high level of illiteracy, lack of skills and education and training among people with disabilities 23 years after independence. This is ascribed to the fact that children with special needs still cannot outwear the difference between intellectual giftedness as being the metamorphosis of traditional learning and the enigma of specialized teaching techniques among all special schools in the Namibian education sector.

In most special schools critical skills challenges still appear to be negative towards the challenged special needs educator, perpetually trying to modify specific teaching methods and environments to partake and reach an educational equilibrium benchmarked to general or regular schooling standards. Our country still considers special education as less a 'place' and more as 'a range of services', available in every school hence withstanding qualitative education. Integration and inclusivity can only be reduced by eliminating social stigma and improving academic achievements for all students - with or without disabilities.

Reverse discrimination is back in Namibia in that the government still continues to promote the ideal that special schools are or should merely be concourses of only children with disabilities, and reserving regular general schools for children without disabilities. The result of this quarantining education method is a ticking time bomb that will explode with sharp nails with no mercy to anyone. In future quarantining education is likely to lead to rigid exclusive education and our children without disabilities will adversely grow and learn nothing about other children with disabilities, henceforth failing to accept their disabilities.

Education stereotyping is yet another hurdle being perpetually promoted in the Namibian education system by exclusively quarantining children with disabilities in regular camps called special schools, such that they often grow and develop without knowledge of able-bodied children in regular schools. This gives the impression that the success of any educator rests on the ability and covertness of the learner. Formally any ladder to didactics will never be achieved if we intend to climb it with hands in our pockets. Government should promote the inclusion of children with special needs in regular schools, rather than continuing to promote special schools, which harbour only specific learning groups and eventually isolate these learning groups from others.

Indeed there are certain environments where children with special needs would not cope due to their unique special needs, but our plight should be to ensure that all children are educated in a similar simulated environment even if they will differ on syllabus or subject options, but are provided a similar learning environment. The continuous exclusion of special schools is likely and similarly heading to dissecting our margin of total quality and equilibrium in education for all by 2030, and it is averagely predicted that the gap between understanding children with special needs and adjusting their educational needs versus that of regular schools will continue to broaden, and contextually promote a "we and they" dichotomy in the distribution of equitable education for the Namibian child.

Let us note that disability is a cross-cutting issue and at any given time a child with a disability could be born, or any of ourselves could end up acquiring a disability of some sort at any time, and if Namibia does not prepare its nation towards this, we will be blamed for being leaders who failed to take the notion on corrective and tangible human rights for people with disabilities as provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Collectively there are lesser and greater efforts in impeding social barriers to total inclusivity of people with disabilities in the mainstream economy and in equating or mainstreaming disability management in all STEP (Social, Economic, Technological and Political) factors of our country, through the promotion of inclusive education for all Namibians irrespective of disability, colour, creed and origin.

• Martin Nyambe Limbo is the Director of the National Disability Council of Namibia.

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