‘Why do you care about special education?’

30 August 09

“When I go home and walk down the street, people treat me like a traitor. They say, ‘Why did you betray us and abandon the normal students.”

– Benedict, Special Education Teacher

Obalwanda Special School for the Mentally Handicapped

Mbita, Kenya

In Kenya, according to Mama Jane, it’s not uncommon for someone to answer an inquiry as to what her child is up to by responding, “He graduated from college but he couldn’t find a job; he’s a teacher.”

Calling or not, this doesn’t set the lights a’shimmering down the career path to education.

Thursday, we found things could be worse.

Anyone in education in Kenya will tell you that Special Education in the country has gone neglected. Having a child with special needs it seen by most to be shameful and as Jane was introducing us to the district’s newly minted coordinator of special education, she admitted sometimes you will find children who literally haven’t seen the light of day because of their family’s pride.

At Obalwanda Special School for the Mentally Handicapped, I met Benedict, the teacher in charge of the school’s integration program.

He was genuinely taken aback when I began peppering him with questions.

“Why do you care about special education?” he asked.

I explained that I had always taught in an inclusive classroom with students with disabilities who had been mainstreamed.

His surprise that I was interested as a “traditional” teacher and that I wasn’t a special education teacher trumped that of his surprise at my questions.

Benedict said he was responsible for the mainstreaming of 5 the school’s 43 residential students into classes at the primary school that shared both its grounds and its principal with Obalwanda. (When I say shared, I mean shared with a wire fence dividing both schools’ yards.)

It was going well, he said. The students were taking things more slowly than their counterparts, but they were doing generally well.

I asked how they were being accepted and Benedict said the stigma had been noticeable when the program started a year ago, but things were getting better.

Teachers had been the biggest problem, he said. “They won’t make time to talk about what the students need,” he said.

It’s sad some of the things I’m learning are international.

Benedict is doing good things, though, despite the many obstacles.

We weren’t there long, but I feel the same could be said for the Obalwandan faculty.

If only the teachers could enjoy a least restrictive environment, imagine what that would mean for their learners.

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