This article has been published in Enabling Education 13
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Title: Changing Relationships between Special and Mainstream Schools in Malawi
Author: Missinzo, D
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2009

Changing relationships between special and mainstream schools in Malawi

Delix Missinzo

In many countries there is little contact between special schools and mainstream schools. In Malawi, misunderstandings about the roles of special and inclusive schools, and the unclear relationship between them, are holding back progress towards inclusion. However, the situation is beginning to change. Here Delix describes some initial activities to bring special and mainstream schools together for the benefit of deaf learners.

In 1983 the first itinerant (travelling) teachers, who have some specialist training, began working with visually impaired learners in mainstream schools. Later, in 1996, an itinerant service began supporting learners with hearing impairments and learning difficulties. However, mainstream teachers were not trained to work with these itinerant teachers. This has made it difficult for the itinerant teachers to provide effective support. The government created an inclusive education policy in 2001. Yet, there is no guidance on the development of personnel and expertise, or on how deaf learners, and others with disabilities and special educational needs, can be educated in their neighbourhood schools.

Special and mainstream school relationships
Understanding how to implement inclusive education is limited in Malawi. Teacher training colleges have no specialist lecturers and inclusive education is only now beginning to be discussed. Mainstream teachers tend to think that inclusion involves the teaching of learners with disabilities in special schools by specialist teachers – a misconception which has led to teachers in special and mainstream schools having little contact with each other.

Four residential special schools cater for about 600 deaf children, yet estimates suggest there are at least 6,000 children who were born severely deaf and many more who become deaf through illness. Inclusive education may be the only way to reach these large numbers of children.

Improved collaboration in Masambanjati Zone
Masambanjati Zone in Southern Malawi has 14 mainstream primary schools with a total enrolment of 10,000 learners. With just 82 teachers, the teacher/learner ratio in the zone is challenging – 1:122.

Inspired by their Primary Education Adviser, who is a specialist teacher of the deaf, teachers in the zone formed a committee to look into inclusive practices in schools. The committee suggested visiting a resource centre and a residential school for the deaf. They wanted to see how specialist teachers interact with deaf learners and arranged a visit to nearby Mountain View School for Deaf Children. Primary school education advisers from three zones and head teachers from neighbouring mainstream schools were also involved in the visit.

Before visiting, the district education office organised deaf awareness training for 390 mainstream teachers, with support from the UK’s Voluntary Services Overseas organisation. Teachers from Mountain View School helped to facilitate the workshop.

During the visit, mainstream teachers realised what was achievable within their own schools.

“I liked this visit and now have the courage to teach all learners if given a chance. If we don’t allow deaf learners in mainstream schools it will be cruel because residential schools are limited in the country. Where else can deaf children be educated? We have seen how deaf learners can be educated. I have a story to tell my colleagues and the community when I go back.”
Brighton Nkolokosa, teacher of 136 learners in standard 6, Mbalanguzi Primary School.

The visit was an eye-opener for mainstream teachers, and started the process of sharing ideas and experiences between schools. This now needs further support from government and other stakeholders so that specialist teachers can organise outreach programmes that support mainstream schools.

Delix is a teacher of the deaf, a graduate of the University of Manchester and a lecturer at Montfort Special Needs Education College in Malawi.

c/o Mountain View School for Deaf Children,
P/Bag 16,