Inclusive education and civic responsibility in Zambia
If you read any manual on inclusive education, it will tell you that inclusive education is a long-term, ongoing process of change involving all education stakeholders, not a fixed solution that can be implemented overnight. EENET has been lucky to observe such a process evolving in Zambia over many years. In 2000 EENET first met Paul Mumba, a teacher in Mpika, Zambia, who was working to bring inclusion and democracy to his class. We have stayed in contact ever since. Paul is still working hard to promote inclusive education. In this article he summarises some of his main work and achievements.
Ministry of Education policy in Zambia aims, as far as possible, to allow children with special educational needs to remain in regular schools. The government’s Inclusive Schooling Programme (INSPRO) was initially implemented as a pilot project in Kalulushi district, Copperbelt province in 1997, and a positive evaluation in 2002 led to its expansion throughout Zambia.
Although negative attitudes towards inclusive education, and in particular education of disabled people, continue to act as a barrier, the Ministry of Education has given teachers the freedom to trial ideas that could improve their teaching methodologies. This means teachers have been empowered to take the initiative of translating inclusive policy into action and to make inclusive education a reality in their classrooms. This has not been easy, especially for teachers who have not received specific training in inclusive approaches and/or who are under the supervision of inflexible head teachers.
I was fortunate to work under a head teacher who allowed me to use and develop my childcentred, child-led approaches to inclusive education. I used my earlier experience of the child-to-child participatory and empowering approach, together with action learning methods introduced to me by EENET. Consequently I was able to design a way of including disabled children in my class that involved participation of parents, children and myself, using the strategies I developed through constant reflection and evaluation.
In preparing to welcome disabled children into class I prepared lessons on disability issues, to raise awareness among the existing pupils about the different types of disabilities that can be found in their communities. I was then able to design other lessons that prepared children for accommodating their disabled peers when they came to school. After the sensitisation stage, children were ready to identify and locate the homes of disabled children in their community who were not coming to school.
Home visits were done by both the children and me. Once the homes of disabled children were identified, the children would then lead me to them for a discussion with the parents. I encouraged parents to allow their disabled children to come to school. It was not an easy process. However, I linked the children in my class to these homes to enable a regular outreach programme to be carried by those children who had developed an interest. This continued until the disabled child was allowed to come to school by the parents or guardians.
This was a key strategy for children’s action. Twinning is the linking of one child with another or several others, and this has been used in my district within child-to-child health education work for many years. Disabled children were partnered with non-disabled children for purposes of socialisation. Nondisabled children were also able to advise the teacher (me) on how to relate to the disabled child, since they were together for a longer period of time.
A poster of ‘rules for the teacher’ created by children in a democratic class
Democratising the class
My interest in democratic education was partly inspired by my government’s desire to develop democracy in the country. I thought the education sector would be the best sector to set an example of democracy, particularly among teachers in their classrooms. Since democracy is about participation by all, including disabled children, I decided to introduce children to their rights, create co-operative learning groups and design ways by which children and parents could participate in the school curriculum. This involved classes of mixed gender, mixed social class and mixed ability children. Seventeen years after they had been involved in my classroom, the children were interviewed by a research group to find out about their levels of civic responsibility. They still remembered how my classes has promoted helping others, co-operative learning and gender equality, as part of civic responsibility.
a) Introducing children to their rights
Introducing children to their rights, despite being the most challenging task, helped them to identify their responsibilities irrespective of their abilities and disabilities. It helped them become more responsible.
b) Co-operative learning
These groups were different from the usual groups implemented in most schools. Cooperative learning groups helped to create happy relationships and a good environment. These groups were deliberately set up to include disabled and non-disabled children, mixed gender and abilities. This was a way of eliminating gender differences and closing any of the cultural gaps created between disabled and non-disabled children.
c) Participation in the school curriculum
Parents and children were invited and encouraged to participate in the development of the curriculum of the school through questionnaires and discussions on how best their children learn.
- I learned that disabled children can be accommodated in the mainstream class without much difficulty if we reflect on our methods of teaching.
- Inclusive education methodologies can only be developed as a result of sharing ideas that have worked. Governments should create forums to identify and share such ideas. I have also learned a lot through networking with EENET.
- The success of inclusive education depends on monitoring practices in schools. Being observed motivated me. It was an opportunity to share and demonstrate my strategies.
- Children should be involved in developing inclusive education strategies. They were able to share with me what worked well in their communities. However, this requires democratic teaching methods.
- The biggest challenge is when disabled children move from one school to another, as their new school may not believe in inclusive education, leading to drop-outs.
- There also needs to be more institutions focusing on developing life skills. One intellectually disabled pupil challenged me about the lack of places where they can learn practical skills alongside more academic subjects.
Paul is a teacher and teacher educator in Mpika, northern Zambia. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org