THE Auditor General’s Report on the Provision of Special Education in Primary Schools has revealed a lack of specialisation among teachers handling pupils with unique education needs in Zambia.

In the performance audit on the Provision of Special Education in Zambian Primary Schools for the period 2014 to 2018, the Auditor General noted that special education in Zambia was not disability-specific.

The report explained that there was no specialisation among teachers and that students did not learn subjects in languages of the deaf nor the blind.

The Auditor General also observed that many trained teachers with diplomas in special education were not fluent in reading and writing Braille because the current special education training was too general.

“According to ZAMISE (Zambia Institute of Special Education), up until 2004, primary school teachers received mandatory basic specialised training in special education as part of primary school teaching in-service training. After 2004, in addition to primary school teaching, all teachers were now trained in teaching all disabilities. However, the institute indicated that this was not effective as some teachers struggled to grasp all the concepts and were not effective to handle all disabilities. The institute indicated that they received feedback from their students, which revealed that special education provision was not adequately integrated in most schools by the school managers,” the report revealed.

“Teachers had pointed out that there was inadequacy, especially in the areas of sign language and Braille in the colleges and universities. Many trained teachers with diplomas in special education were not fluent in reading and writing Braille. This could be so because the current special education training is too general. It is not disability-specific, that is, there is no specialisation. In addition, students do not learn subjects in the languages of the deaf nor the blind. For instance, if a student is to be teaching mathematics, she/he should be exposed to learning the subject in Braille or sign language. Though students may graduate with distinctions in special education, they normally lack sufficient language of the learners they were to handle.”

The report also revealed that visually-impaired teachers were being deployed to teach pupils with visual impairments even though they had no qualifications in special education.

“Interviews with management at Ndola Lions School for the Blind and Sefula School for the Visually Impaired revealed that teachers with visual impairments, who were not trained in special education were posted to these schools. Interviews with Curriculum Development revealed that this was because they were able to assist with teaching in Braille, which most sighted special education teachers could not adequately handle. Interviews revealed that there was no in-service or pre-service institution training teachers in inclusive teaching methodologies. However, there were six schools that were piloting inclusive learning in Southern Province, and teachers in those particular schools had been trained with the support of a Community Based Rehabilitation Zambia Support Programme,” the report revealed.

“Pre-service training for primary school special education teachers was conducted by lecturers, who had no experience in primary school teaching and methodologies as most of them were secondary school teachers, who had become lecturers at ZAMISE. This limited their ability to impart the practical skills and knowledge to the trainee teachers, which impacted on their performance. There has not been enough sensitisation provided to stakeholders on the implementation guidelines on special and inclusive learning. Special education activities were not sufficiently planned for as there were no key indicators in annual work plans on which performance could then be assessed. Further, a review of reports indicated that the number of teachers was not enough in many units and individualised teaching was not taking place. The reports also stated that the shortage of teachers also limited the implementation of Inclusive Schooling programme (INSPRO)activities. However, statistics on the required number of special education teachers and current SE teachers was not available from the Ministry for the period 2014 to 2017.”

Meanwhile, the Auditor General regretted that some pupils with special education needs were unable to go to school because of the long distances they were required to cover to attend school.

“The Ministry of General Education has continued to increase the number of special primary schools and units to cater for learners with special education needs in the country. In 2014, there were 208 units available, which have increased to 250 in 2018. The number of schools also increased marginally from 24 in 2014 to 27 in 2018. This also saw an increase of learners with special education needs enrolled from 89,134 in 2014 to 103,218 in 2016 and to 110,320 in 2017. However, there were instances of learners with special education needs, who were not able to access education due to the distances to the available schools,” narrated the report.

“For example, DEBS (District Education Board Secretary) officials in Zimba and Kazungula, and school administrators at Sesheke and Mutende Primary in Mansa, indicated that they had identified children with disabilities, who could not enrol in school as the distances from their homes to the nearest unit or school was more than 5 kilometres. A review of annual reports also indicated this as a challenge to access education as well as the increased absenteeism of those enrolled. In addition, the introduction of inclusive education helped to improve access to education for learners with special education needs with mild disabilities. However, interviews revealed that this had not been fully appreciated or understood by all stakeholders. There were instances where physically-disabled learners were denied school places in mainstream classes, even when they were fully able to learn without any special assistance.”