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Inclusive education in Zimbabwe: policy, curriculum, practice, family, and teacher education issues.

In the Zimbabwean context, inclusive education involves the identification and minimization or elimination of barriers to students' participation in traditional settings (i.e., schools, homes, communities, and workplaces) and the maximization of resources to support learning and participation (Chimedza & Peters, 1999; Mpofu, 2004). In school settings, successful inclusion results in students' and their families' participation in the regular activities of the school community while meeting their unique needs, as well as contributing to the development of the school community. This article considers aspects of curriculum and classroom practices, the role of families, teacher preparation, and government policies that influence qualities of inclusive education, as practiced in Zimbabwe.

The Context of Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is located in the south-central region of Africa, and its economy is mostly rural agricultural, although manufacturing and mining are increasingly becoming significant. The country has a population of approximately 12 million, of which 80 percent is rural, black African. Most Zimbabweans (about 80 percent) are Shona-speaking. Minority cultural groups in Zimbabwe include the Ndebele/Nguni, Venda, Tonga, Asians, and whites. The Zimbabwean national literacy rate of 90 percent is one of the highest in the world (UNICEF, 2006).

About three million children (90 percent of the total school-age population) attend school in Zimbabwe (Education Management Information Systems, 2004). Of these, 14,115 students with mental retardation, 50,000 children with learning disabilities, 1,634 children with hearing impairment, and 2,635 students with blindness or visual impairment attended school in Zimbabwe in 2004 (Education Management Information Systems, 2004; Mpofu, Mutepfa, Chireshe & Kasayira, in press). If one applies the World Health Organization's (WHO) estimate of 10 percent of children worldwide who have a disability (WHO, 2004), Zimbabwe is likely to have about 300,000 school-age children who have a disability.

The Zimbabwe School Psychological Services and Special Education (SPS & SE) department has the primary responsibility for supporting schools in their inclusive education practices (Mpofu, Mutepfa, Chireshe, & Kasayira, in press). It provides inservice training and support in the application of applied behavior analysis and teaching of students with disabilities. The SPS & SE department also provides a wide range of counseling services (Mpofu & Nyanungo, 1998).

There is no specific legislation for inclusive education in Zimbabwe (Mpofu, 2004). However, a number of government policy issues are consistent with the intent of inclusive education. For example, the Zimbabwe Education Act (Education Act, 1996), the Disabled Persons Act (Disabled Persons Act, 1996), and various Ministry of Education circulars (Education Secretary's Policy Circular No. P36, 1990) require that all students, regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, and disability, have access to basic or primary education (up to Grade 7). Yet, the Disabled Persons Act (1996) does not commit the government to providing inclusive education in any concrete way; in fact, it specifically prevents citizens with disabilities from suing the Zimbabwean government regarding government facility access issues that may impair their community participation (Mpofu, Kasayira et al., 2006). In the absence of any mandatory order stipulating the services to be provided, and by whom, how, when, and where, there could be no meaningful educational services for learners with disabilities in Zimbabwe.

The Secretary for Education's directive for inclusive education requires schools to provide equal access to education for learners with disabilities, routinely screen for any form of disability, and admit any school-age child, regardless of ability. Any school that refuses to enroll a child on grounds of disability is in violation of the Disabled Persons Act (1996) and faces disciplinary action from the District Education Office. This requirement for open access to education does not extend to high school, perhaps because the government considers literacy as achievable by Grade 7 and a high school education as a privilege, rather than a right.

Curriculum and Classroom Practices for Inclusion in Zimbabwean Schools

Students in Zimbabwe are expected to master the national curriculum at all levels of schooling, regardless of ability (Education Secretary's Policy Circular 36 of 1990). The minimum expected educational outcome for all students is functional literacy and numeracy by the end of primary school or Grade 7 (Education Secretary's Policy Circular No. 12, 1987).

Zimbabwean schools use up to four curriculum and instruction options to support school participation by students with disabilities: locational inclusion, inclusion with partial withdrawal from ordinary classroom settings, inclusion with clinical remedial instruction, and unplanned or de facto inclusion (Mnkandla & Mataruse, 2002; Mpofu, 2001). A school could use several of these options with students with disabilities as needed or if the options are available.

With locational inclusion, students with severe disabilities attend ordinary schools and are taught the national curriculum in a secluded resource room within the school (Mpofu, 2000a). It is offered only at primary schools, and the units are set up by schools with the help of the SPS & SE. The students typically have deafness, blindness, severe to moderate mental retardation, or other significant neuromuscular conditions. Less than one percent of Zimbabwean primary schools offer locational inclusion; a significant minority of students who could be enrolled in ordinary schools with locational inclusion attend residential special needs education schools. Parents or guardians perceive those special needs education schools to have better resources for meeting the needs of their children (Mpofu, 2000a).

Locational inclusion meets the intent of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education's universal access to basic education policy for all school-age children. The learning goals for many of the students with significant disabilities include basic self-care and social skills training. For locational inclusive education, school psychologists select students with significant disabilities who typically are not taught the full national curriculum by the time they transition from school to community at the end of primary (or elementary) school. They typically do not take the national examinations, which are required to transition to secondary school, instead transitioning directly to the community from primary school.

Students also may be served through inclusion with partial withdrawal from regular classroom settings. In this instance, they are taught the core subjects of reading and math in the resource room and attend the regular classroom with the other students for social studies, science, and religious and moral education (Mpofu, 2000a, 2004). About one percent of Zimbabwean primary schools offer inclusion with partial withdrawal (Mpofu, Kasayira, Mutepfa, & Chireshe, in press). Students in inclusion with partial withdrawal tend to be those with hearing impairment, mild to moderate visual impairment, and mild to moderate mental retardation. They are selected for curriculum instruction with partial support following a comprehensive evaluation by a multidisciplinary team of school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, parents, and schoolteachers. A minority of the students take the national school achievement examination at the end of primary school, with only a miniscule amount (less than one percent) of the students proceeding to high school (Mpofu, Kasayira et al., in press).

Students served through inclusion with clinical remediation take the full curriculum in ordinary classrooms and receive clinical remedial instruction as needed. The designation "clinical" refers to the fact that instruction is designed to target the student's specific learning difficulties rather than the broader curriculum competencies (Mpofu, 2001). This inclusion education option is expected for all primary schools in Zimbabwe (Education Secretary's Policy Circular No. 12, 1987). Inclusion with clinical remediation differs from inclusion with partial withdrawal in terms of the student populations served, as previously noted, and in the time and location of providing instruction (i.e., resource room during regular school hours versus outside the regular instruction time, respectively). The clinical remedial instruction is offered in math and reading for two hours a week by a team of regular classroom teachers. This supplemental instruction is geared to each student's unique learning needs. As much as possible, instruction is provided in small groups to students perceived to have similar learning needs. Regular classroom teachers and resource room teachers co-identify the needs to be met in the resource room. Often, the teachers use the student's performance on the regular curriculum as a basis for determining the areas in which clinical instruction is needed (Mpofu, 2001). Occasionally, they also may have access to the results of diagnostic attainment testing by remedial tutors from the SPS & SE (Mpofu & Nyanungo, 1998; Oakland, Mpofu, Glasgow, & Jumel, 2003). Students with mild to moderate learning disabilities tend to receive supplemental instruction with resource room support. Inclusion with clinical instruction is also offered at a number of Zimbabwean high schools. In addition, schools providing inclusion with supplemental instruction have the services of a peripatetic remedial tutor from the SPS & SE department to assist teachers with instructional design, delivery, and evaluation.

The most prevalent type of inclusive education in Zimbabwe is unplanned or de facto inclusion. With unplanned inclusion, students with disabilities are exposed to the full national curriculum in regular education settings. The vast majority of students with disabilities participating in unplanned inclusion are placed in schools by parents and guardians, often with no documentation by the school of their specific disabilities. They are in unplanned or de facto inclusion by default (i.e., in the absence of options), rather than by design. Unfortunately, students with severe disabilities are the least well-served by unplanned or de facto inclusion, as practiced in Zimbabwean schools, because the majority of the schools lack the personnel and material resources to cater to a variety of significant learning needs (Mnkandla & Mataruse, 2002). As a result, a great number of students with severe disabilities in unplanned or de facto inclusion are likely to drop out of school by the 3rd grade.

The Role of Families

The levels of family involvement in children's education might vary by the inclusive education option available to them, the type of disability, the family's socioeconomic status (SES), and the nature of the parent-child (or guardian-child) relationship. In rural Zimbabwe, grandparents often are better advocates for their grandchildren with disabilities than biological parents, because they are likely to be responsible for raising the children at the rural homestead, while the biological parents may be working in the cities.

In unplanned or de facto inclusive education, the parents or guardians have little involvement in curriculum and classroom practices beyond enrolling their child at the local school. In these schools, the lack of disability services in place and the lack of educational plans for students with disabilities impede parents from involvement in their children's education. For students with a severe disability, the quality of school life in unplanned inclusive education is significantly lower than that of typically developing peers, due to lack of recognition of their unique needs, including associated medical conditions that require monitoring by teachers (Devlieger, 1998; Mpofu, 2004).

In Zimbabwe, a majority of students with disabilities are from low-SES backgrounds (Mpofu, 1999), and their parents or guardians are marginally involved in their schooling. The higher prevalence of disabilities in children from low-SES backgrounds in Zimbabwe is due to the parents' lack of literacy and inadequate access to preventive medicine or health care (Mpofu, 2000b). Low-SES families might typically lack knowledge about or appreciation of community resources that would make the student more successful in school. For example, Mpofu (2004) reported a case about a father of a child with spastic cerebral palsy who received a wheelchair with the help of an international relief agency. The father used the wheelchair as his personal chair, preventing the child from using it for personal mobility needs and transportation for school.

Regardless of family background, parents or guardians of students with disabilities are more actively involved in education if the local school has more structured inclusion options with resource room support (Mpofu, 2000a, 2000b). For example, parents whose children attend more structured inclusive educational settings are more likely to be consulted by the teachers, school psychologists, and other professionals than those in unplanned inclusion. Through this ongoing collaboration with the school, the parents or guardians typically achieve a greater appreciation of their child's disability, and of alternative interventions.

Teacher Education

Zimbabwe is one of the very few countries on the African continent where more than 90 percent of schoolteachers have a college degree in education. In addition, a significant minority of the teachers hold graduate degrees. The Zimbabwean teacher education curriculum is administered by the University of Zimbabwe and 18 associate colleges. Also, the Zimbabwe Open University is increasingly becoming a major player in special needs education. Special needs education teacher certification is typically attained after achieving the regular teacher education qualification. The teacher education curriculum by the University of Zimbabwe and its affiliate colleges emphasizes pedagogy and child development, including the learning needs of exceptional children, broadly defined. Furthermore, both regular classroom teachers and special needs teachers in Zimbabwe have some training in inclusive education practices.

Research on Zimbabwean teachers' attitudes towards students with disabilities suggests a need for enhancement of the teacher training in inclusive education practices. For example, Barnatt and Kabzems (1992) reported that about half of Zimbabwean teachers did not support the placement of students with mental retardation in mainstream settings, in general, and that 64 percent of teachers would not accept these children in their classrooms. Legally, Zimbabwean teachers cannot deny a child admission to their classrooms. In practice, however, children with significant disabilities have been turned away from schools because teachers perceived themselves as untrained and ill-equipped to teach the children.

On the other hand, Maunganidze and Kasayira (2002) observed that 52 percent of regular education teachers had positive attitudes towards the education of students with disabilities in inclusive education settings. In their study, students with physical and visual disabilities were considered more acceptable for inclusive schools than those with intellectual and hearing impairment. Furthermore, teachers at schools with inclusion with resource room support had more positive attitudes towards integration of students with disabilities than those at schools with unplanned inclusion. These positive attitudes might be the result of the regular education teachers getting support from the resource room teacher, who provides instruction for helping special needs students in the inclusive classroom. In addition, teachers with special needs qualifications and experience and school administrators also had positive attitudes towards education in inclusive settings (Hungwe, 2005). These studies seem to suggest that Zimbabwean regular education teachers are developing more positive attitudes towards inclusive education related to children with special needs. It appears that having students with disabilities at regular schools with resource room support enhances the teaching-learning environment as well as teachers' awareness about disabilities (Mnkandla & Mataruse, 2002; Mpofu, 2001, 2004).

Summary and Conclusion

Inclusive education in Zimbabwe seeks to enhance the civil liberties of students with disabilities and their families. Its practice is supported by some government policy documents, and, by implication, by several pieces of legislation. However, successful inclusive education in Zimbabwe is yet to be a common reality, due to a lack of commitment by policymakers towards learners with disabilities. In addition, parents and guardians have credible concerns regarding the safety and quality of learning experience for their students with disabilities in non-inclusive school settings. Therefore, a commitment by all stakeholders to binding legislation for inclusive education is crucial to the promotion of inclusive education in Zimbabwe.

Inclusive education is widely practiced, even in countries and settings with few resources. In Zimbabwe, there are significant differences in the quality of inclusive education between urban and rural areas. Urban centers tend to have better-developed education infrastructure and are likely to have planned for inclusive education. Upon recognizing variations in practice and in relevant factors, national and international education agencies would be better able to support inclusive education. Models with evidence for success in other national and international settings could be considered for adaptation, while the sociocultural features of the countries/regions are examined.


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Magen M. Mutepfa is senior psychologist, School Psychological Services and Special Education, Zimbabwe. Elias Mpofu is Professor, Rehabilitation Services, Department of Counselor Education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Tsitsi Chataika, doctoral student, Department of Disability Studies, University of Sheffield and disability services coordinator, University of Zimbabwe.
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Author:Mutepfa, Magen M.; Mpofu Elias; Chataika, Tsitsi
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Aug 15, 2007
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