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Developing a curriculum for children with deafblindness in Kenya

31 December 2014
Posted by Edwin Osundwa

Over the past year a specialist curriculum for children who are deaf and blind has been rolled out in Kenya's 10 deafblind education units in specialist schools. This is a result of a partnership between Sense International Kenya and the Kenyan Institute for Education (KIE) that we hope will result in a much improved standard of education for children with deafblindness in the country.

Many specialist teachers were struggling without a curriculum. The classrooms could be chaotic, lacking in direction and teachers were asking us what they could do to ensure the correct ground was being covered and how they should measure children's progress.

As a result we approached KIE to ask them if they would work with us to create a new national curriculum for children with deafblindness. Over the next few months we worked with KIE bringing with us a great deal of practical experience from working with children with deafblindness and their families and a desire to create a curriculum that would improve the standard of teaching for the children and allow us to measure their progress.

We also arranged for parents of children with deafblindness and teachers to share their views on what should go into the new curriculum. Parents often have their own unique insight into the skills that a child with deafblindness needs to help around the home or what their child has found the most useful to learn in school. It was essential that they were included in the process.

One of the main challenges we faced during the work was the level of bureaucracy that needed to be waded through in order to introduce the new curriculum. This ranged from delays in approval of certain sections of the curriculum to small amends taking a great deal of time. The teachers that we work with were often frustrated by the time it took for the new curriculum to be completed, hoping to see the results sooner rather than later. There was also a general election during the process which meant certain aspects were slowed down while a new officials took over. As with any major project, wrangling for money to ensure the resources are available has also been hard work and will continue to be a challenge. However, the hardwork has paid off and the resulting new curriculum will ensure pupils with deafblindness will receive a uniform level of education that addresses their needs and can help prepare them for post-school life.

There are around 17,000 people with deafblindness in Kenya and without intervention and support many of these will lead short and lonely lives. School and the opportunity for a formal education isn't always an option for these children. For some families the distance to a suitable school placement is too far or the cost of boarding fees too great. In Tanzania the government is paying for transport costs and we are encouraging the Kenyan government to adopt a similar policy.

Many disabled children aren't in school and as a result the next big project for us was to develop a standard curriculum for those receiving a home-based education to ensure they receive the same benefits as children in schools.

Existing special schools have been transformed into resource centres with multi-disciplinary teams of educational and health professionals assessing children with deafblindness and, with the input of parents, developing Individual Education Plans for each child. Additional special needs teachers have been posted to each resource centre in order to go out into communities and train local mainstream teachers and parents how to provide holistic education and therapy for children with deafblindness at home.

A home based curriculum has been specially developed in each country, paving the way for similar approaches for other excluded groups of children. What is so unique about this approach is that unlike most Community Based Rehabilitation approaches where NGOs are used to deliver home services, this approach utilises existing state infrastructure and human resources to provide non-formal education but following a standardised curriculum and set of quality standards. No longer will home based services have to come to an end when project funding runs out.

This pilot programme will reach 900 children with deafblindness and their families (5,400 people), and is building the capacity of 9 resource centres, 99 special needs teachers and 900 mainstream teachers to deliver CBE. The mainstream teachers role is key as they support parents by helping them to make lessons for the children out of everyday activities, based on the curriculum and Individual Education Plans.

CBE has already changed 10-year-old Rehema's life. Rehema has been enrolled at Mukuru Kwa Njenga Primary school in Kenya under the care of teacher Samuel Isaboke who makes visits to her home at least three times a week to support her parents in educating her. In line with the holistic approach of CBE, Rehema has been provided with physiotherapy sessions 3 times in a week to complement the therapy being provided by her parents and teachers.

Her mother comments:

"Sense international has helped my daughter a great deal. My daughter's life has been transformed by this project. Rehema's communication skills have improved and she is making very good progress in her mobility skills too."

The results of this pilot programme are impressive but home based education is only the first stage. Once a child with deafblindness has developed sufficient communication skills, the mainstream teacher will gradually start to include them in school activities and lessons.

We are working with governments to provide classroom teaching assistants to facilitate this next stage in the process. Ultimately our aim is to  every child with deafblindness in all regions of East Africa to access an appropriate and quality education from within their own communities, so that children like Rehema no longer miss out on the education and therapy they need to achieve their full potential in life.

Edwin Osundwa is country representative for Sense International Kenya.

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014