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PERCEPTIONS OF DISABILTY IN ZAMBIA: IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATIONAL POLICIES AND OTHER SERVICE DELIVERY
D. M. Kalabula*
Generally, the term "disability" is understood as a functional limitation of an individual's ability to carry out normal activities of daily living caused by either a permanent physical or mental impairment or a chronic clinical condition as epilepsy, bronchitis or schizophrenia. Thus it is implied that there is a standard of activity which is normal and those who fall below it are regarded as disabled. The McCorguodale Committee on the Assessment of Disablement referred to the principle that assessment should be determined by `means of a comparison between the condition of the disabled person and that of a normal healthy person'. The term `disability' is sometimes used synonymously with handicap but this is inaccurate: handicap is the effect of disability in restricting achievement and causing social disadvantage: for example, chronic bronchitis is a disability since the sufferer would not be able to take part in activities involving moderate exercise; a sedentary worker living in a bungalow would be much less handicapped by it than a labour living in an upstairs flat. Similarly a boy with a leg amputated suffers gross disability, but may not be academically handicapped at all.
PERCEPTIONS OF DISABILITY
Wolfensberger (1971) stated that "man's behaviour is in good part determined by what I want to call his ideologies. By ideology, I mean a combination of beliefs, attitudes, and interpretations of reality that are derived from one's experiences, one's knowledge of what are presumed to be facts, and above all, one's values".
During the 1970s, Wolfensberger, perhaps more than any other author, articulated the developing Western philosophy of "normalisation and integration" which began in Scandinavia in the late 1960s with particular reference to mentally retarded people. Over the centuries, and more rapidly in the past two and half decades, approaches to people with disabilities have undergone an evolutionary process. Increased scientific understanding and the adoption of principles of human rights have helped to change practices from those of regarding people with disabilities as inhuman and outcasts of society to people with positive attributes, contributions to make, and rights like anyone else.
In the past, social attitudes towards disability have led persons with disabilities' status subordinate to majority's interests and as a result, persons with disabilities have suffered innumerable restrictions on entry into certain roles such as education and employment.
Unless societal perceptions of disability are understood, it is difficult to gauge the impact on the individual's opportunities to learn in school and function in society. It is important to know the belief system supported by the majority culture, and broad social factors that impinge on the settings within which the individual with disabilities functions. This context includes society members' general perceptions of individuals with disabilities, teachers, educational authorities, schools, business and industry. According to Riegal, society's general perspective of teachers, the social role of students, and community values all affect each student's education.
The situation regarding educational services in Zambia today, 1998 does not seem to be any better than it was in 1995. Because of having no strong voice to speak for the children with disabilities, education support which has been given by international non-governmental organisations and development agencies, has been discontinued. The state also seems to be in serious financial doldrums which makes it impossible for it to fund educational and other services to children with disabilities. However, this situation should not be condoned. The state has the responsibility to educate children with disabilities. It is better to do so now than to continue handing out alms for the rest of these children's lives.
The fact that only about 2,000 out of between 160,000 and 250,000 children with disabilities of primary school age were being catered for in 1995 (Educating Our Future, 1996) presents a serious situation. It is gratifying however, to see that the Ministry of Education seems to have positive policy pronouncements embodied in "Educating Our Future" which among other things states that:
· The ministry of education will ensure equality of educational opportunity for children with special educational needs.
· The Ministry is committed to providing education of particularly good quality to pupils with special educational needs.
· The Ministry will improve and strengthen the supervision and management of special education across the country. This makes good reading, only if the Government can hasten to enact a Law, otherwise pledges will remain hollow as has been the case with the two earlier policy documents.
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY SUCCESSES AT ALL?
The first attempts to teach children with disabilities were made in 1905 in the Eastern Province of Zambia by missionaries. The first schools for children with visual impairments were established in 1923 and 1929, respectively. By 1950, other schools for children with hearing and physical impairments were established by missionaries. Zambia Council for the Handicapped continued with the service delivery under the then Ministry of Labour and Social Services until 1971, when the Ministry of Education took over the arduous responsibility. Upon Ministry of Education's take-over of the responsibility to educate children with disabilities, a special college and an inspectorate were established at the Ministry of Education Headquarter in Lusaka.
The college now called Zambia Institute of Special Education (ZAMISE) affiliated to the University of Zambia, runs pre-school certificate programme; certificate in special needs education; and diploma in special needs education. To date, ZAMISE has churned out over 1,000 inservice special education certificates and over 40 diplomas. About 55 foreign students from Botswana, Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland, Nigeria and South Africa, at certificate level, have also been trained at ZAMISE.
The University of Zambia has established degree programmes in special educational needs at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Other achievements recorded by special needs education in Zambia since 1971, include:
· introduction of special needs education component in pre-service Teacher Training Colleges;
· training of young people with disabilities to become teachers and other worthwhile professions;
· establishment of vocational training programmes in conjunction with both local and foreign non-government organisations;
Creation of :
· an inspectorate of special education needs;
· special needs education curriculum development department at the National Curriculum Development Centre (CDC);
· special needs education examination department at the National Examinations Council of Zambia.
· braille printing press at the Educational Printing Services; within the Ministry of Education.
EFFECTS OF INADEQUATE POLICIES
Many declarations and statements have been made in recent years by the international community through the United Nations and its specialised agencies, as well through non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to promote the right of persons with disabilities (PWDS) and other learning needs to an appropriate education. Most of these declarations and statements were in fact endorsements and /or adoptions of policy proposals and practices already existing in some industrialised countries (nowadays referred to as countries of the North). In Zambia, similar pronouncements and declarations have been made through Educational Reform Document of 1977, Focus on Learning Document of 1992, and the current Educating. Our Future Document of 1996. European and North American countries have since the 1960s been vigorously pursuing principles of integration and normalisation developed in the Scandinavian countries.
In Zambia many criticisms can be advanced against these policies, especially at the implementation level, because special education, apart from being fully unrecognised by the state, continues to exist as a separate, parallel system, though housed in the Ministry of Education Headquarters, as camouflage. The following constraints have had a pronounced effect and have limited administration and provision of adequate services to children with disabilities. Despite stating high sounding policy statement, there has been no effort to formulate specific laws to empower children with special needs. There has been no political will to implement any of the six principles listed above. There has been a serious lack of coherent communications channels between professionals and parents of children with disabilities and the significant others within and without the children's localities. There has been a very hazy understanding of the real specific needs of individual children by administrators, teachers, parents and other service providers at different levels of service delivery and negative attitudes of everybody getting into contact with individual children with disabilities, particularly ordinary teachers, fellow pupils who have no disabilities, and other staff in integrated schools. Most of all, insufficient government funding and as already alluded to: government's lack of commitment to special needs education, has restricted the development and implementation of relevant policies in the education of children with special education needs. One clear example can be cited here. In 1994, the Danish government, under DANIDA ref. No.104. Zambia.1/Education, had offered to support a National Special Educational Programme for 10 to 15 years, where support to the development of a comprehensive Zambia National Special Education Programme, in form of a decentralised system for children with disabilities and special learning needs, to ensure access to necessary support services and to receive education, was guaranteed. Although a comprehensive programme to implement this offer had been worked out by local and Danish experts, and the Danish Government had offered 13 million Kroner to fund the first phase (1995-1999), the Ministry of Education could not sign the pledge, which led to the programme's fall-through.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THIS PLIGHT
Generally, implementing what has been enumerated as strategies in "Educating Our Future, 1996", providing solutions to the constraints encountered would greatly help ameliorate the situation. In a desperate quest to improve educational provision to children with special educational needs, it would be ideal to :
· translate policy pronouncements into Law to empower parents and children with disabilities concerning their rights and privileges;
· establish a department of special education within the Ministry of Education, or strengthen collaboration networking with other stakeholders within the Ministry of Education;
· establish early intervention services;
· run workshops and seminars to sensitise the Zambian populace about disability and special needs education;
· establish a research centre so that policy decisions made in this area of special educational needs are based on research findings, rather than individual or political whims;
· mobilise financial and human resources locally and abroad, to support special needs education;
· establish links with institutions within and without the region. These links should encourage networking and exchanging personnel, research findings, and good practice.
More than anything else, roots for understanding disabilities in Zambia must be established. A practical route to give it greater substance is the development of Zambian disability history, rediscovering `roots' and cultural ground on which Zambians can stand with confidence and from which they can make an informed appraisal of foreign offers of assistance. It will of course be liable to distortions, as noted by Fatton (1992) in his discussion of the `invention' of ethnicity and cultural myths. Yet the process of rediscovering disability history is an illuminating way to engage with the issues and options of current disability services and rights development.
For the foreseeable future, the care, training and education of thousands of disabled young Zambians will continue to be in the hands of their immediate family, village health workers and teachers - who may be willing to do their best, but lack specific knowledge and skills to see much success. Information that could make them far more successful is known, and has been known for many years but it has neither been widely communicated nor followed up. Information is the modern wealth - it might be more successful, less dependency-creating, than cash transfers from foreign countries. Disability service providers clearly need enhanced information capacities - to gather, appraise, store and circulate information of many sorts, to monitor flow, to use mass media and minority media to plan information use for cumulative impact. Information is understood in the `information society' sense, i.e. as concepts, knowledge, skills, design and feedback, is fundamental to the functioning of the modern world. Much of it is infinitely shareable without loss to the source - e.g. a skills trainer actually increases her/his own store of information when he/she imparts skills to trainees, by monitoring their feedback. Disability service providers should make significant contribution to civil society by the skilful use of modern communication methods, enabling and empowering ordinary people: mothers, fathers, grandparents, disabled people themselves, rural teachers, health workers, minor government functionaries, and members of non-disability organisations by means of information addressing in appropriate languages, the every day realities of disabilities, home care, training and education.
The mixed understanding of disability in Zambia as highlighted in this discussion, especially as it contributes to inefficient provision of education and other social services, calls for a united, co-ordinated, and pragmatic action by all stakeholders, to demystify disability perceptions, and freely share the universal perception. This is difficult to achieve, but a beginning must be made. Steps must be taken immediately to translate the policy statements embodied in the latest educational policy document "Educating Our Future, 1996" into Law, to empower and protect parents and their children with disabilities. As long as there is no Law, these members of the Zambian society will continue to live as third-class citizens. It is not fair.