Kenya: Let Hearing-Impaired Pupils Attend Regular Schools, Parents, Teachers Plead

They communicate in sign language, at times, they produce sounds in short bursts. To some, the sounds may be incorrigible, but in their community, they are well understood. They go to special schools too.

But now, the hearing-impaired believe it is time they are integrated into mainstream learning institutions.

With some of the pupils performing well in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations, their parents now want them to be taught in regular schools. With proper training and speech therapy, the hearing-impaired children can improve their speech and hearing capabilities and can learn just like their peers, the parents have said.

Norlyn Awuor, a former special needs candidate at Jabali Elementary School, scored 408 marks, and she is an icon amongst the other 18 hearing-impaired pupils who sat the same examination at the school. Coming from a humble background, the girl had been enrolled in the school's scholarship programme.

Though her condition was not as advanced as some of her classmates', she is proof that special needs learners can outdo their peers in normal schools.

"Despite hardships, I am a happy person today. God answered my prayers. My dream is to become a neurosurgeon," said Awuor.

Crucial role

According to the chairperson of the Parents-Teachers Council of Jabali Elementary School, Mr Elijah Odundo, integration of the special needs pupils has played a crucial role in their performance. The constant interaction with their abled counterparts, and support from staff at the school, has seen tremendous improvement in their academics. He asked the government to formulate policies that will see integration rolled out across the country.

While celebrating the school's performance in the 2020 KCPE exams, the parents blamed the government for leaving behind the integration aspect of education, even as it pumped more funds into the sector.

With increased awareness, hearing-impaired children can regain some portion of their hearing, and in some cases, full hearing capacity is regained, Mr Odundo said.

Advanced technology has in the recent past come to bridge the hearing-impairment challenge, especially through proper amplification devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants. Early intervention and speech therapy have also proven to be major contributors to the regaining of hearing.

Take the case of Tacey Awino -- she was born without any hearing capacity, and when she was enrolled in primary school, she still could not hear a word. However, hearing aids and speech therapy have seen her develop speech and she can communicate with her peers with relative ease.

"I have big dreams for my life. I came here with a hearing impairment but I am happy today that I can speak with my friends," Tacey said.

Her father, Mr Joel Ombewa, could not contain his joy. He never thought his daughter would one day speak and interact with her peers as she now can.

"I am a happy father. I call her even when she is in her bedroom and we are able to communicate well," he said.

Hidden joke

However, Mr Ombewa was apprehensive that his daughter would likely go to a special needs secondary school, should the government not act swiftly and provide her with an integrated option of study.

"My daughter excelled. She has marks that will take her to a secondary school, but I am worried that I may be forced to take her to a sign language school," he said.

Seated with her friends Nicole, Norlyn, Valerie, Billan, and Season, one could not tell who among them was hearing-impaired. They chatted animatedly, gesticulating sharply and giggled every now and then at some hidden joke.

Their non-hearing-impaired friends have accepted them totally. One of Tacey's and Norlyn's friends is Nicole Masheti, who scored 396 marks and has been classmates with Tacey since lower primary.

"She has been my friend and will always remain my friend. Studying with her has made me appreciate people who are abled differently. My worry is that we may not be able to go to the same secondary school," she said.

"It is my prayer that our government will come up with policies of how we will have more integrated schools for continuity," she added.

Hearing-impaired

Nicole's father, Mr Anthony Masheti, together with Ms Lizy Mutuma, were the class eight representatives at the school. Both were happy with the integrated approach adopted by the school and said they did not mind having their children learn together with their hearing-impaired classmates. The 2020 KCPE exam was the school's pioneer national examination and the school had a mean score of 350 marks.

"If we had more such schools, we would be very far as a country. These children are abled differently. As a matter of fact, most of them are blessed in the field of arts," said Mr Masheti.

Head teacher Kennedy Odhiambo recounted how his daughter, also hearing-impaired and now an adult, greatly benefited from the integrated system of learning. Before the programme, his daughter struggled with studying and interacting with her peers, he said.

"It is high time the government accommodated the hearing-impaired students who have developed speech through auditory verbal therapy to continue being integrated in high school," said Mr Odhiambo.

But he is still a troubled man. The reason is the fact that the pupils will be admitted to special needs secondary schools despite having studied in an integrated school at primary level.

The school is swamped with requests of admission from desperate parents, but it cannot accommodate them all due to limited resources.

Ms Leah Muthoni, the teacher in charge of integration at the school, explained that when the children are enrolled at an early age, they are easily integrated and develop speech.

"It is not an easy journey but if you are passionate, you will definitely enjoy it and celebrate all of their milestones. I am happy that we trained Tacey and now she has developed some speech. Let her know she will have support to reach her highest potential," she said.

Hearing problem

Ms Muthoni urged parents to ensure that their children are screened as early as possible so that if they are diagnosed with a hearing problem, they are immediately supported to get integral skills such as speech and language.

"We should also create awareness among our children that it is normal to learn among children who have special needs as well," she said.

Among the top-performers in the school was Season Mwaki, who lost his elder sister in the Precious Talent School tragedy in 2019, when several pupils died and others were injured after a building at the school collapsed. Mwaki, who was admitted to the school on bursary, scored 386 marks.

"We celebrate Mwaki and the many others who were on the bursary and scored highly. Having children on bursary mixed with children from able families went a long way to teach life skills to all of our students... to teach them to treat all with respect and accept them," said the school's director, Ms Jackie Oduor.

She expressed her desire to see all children, regardless of their abilities, impairments, and social backgrounds, treated without any discrimination.

"We believe as Jabali School, we send out our pupils to the world well-equipped with life skills, more so in accepting that others are born abled differently but deserve to be accepted and given a fair chance in society as we advocate for them to reach their highest potential," she concluded.

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