Parents and guardians of children with hearing impairments said their children have not been going to school because there were no teachers proficient in sign language.
They said those that go to school are usually isolated and discriminated against by their peers. Isabel Chitate of Lion’s Den in Mashonaland West province is both bitter and upset. Her only granddaughter, Charity, cannot proceed with her education due to lack of qualified teachers at Murereka Primary School.
“They accepted her at the school for two terms, but withdrew her because there are no teachers who can teach her,” said Chitate. “They advised me to seek assistance from Jairos Jiri but I could not go there because I don’t have the money.”
Jairos Jiri Association is a philanthropic organisation set up in 1950 to support and train disadvantaged people, including children. Another parent, who only identified herself as Mai Tariro from Gadzema, a high-density suburb in Chinhoyi, said she had also been struggling to find a place for her child with a hearing disability.
She said could not send her child, to a special school like Emerald Hill in Harare, because the high fees charged by specialist institutions were beyond her reach.
Fortunately, Sinoia Primary School, which is in the same town, has started a special class for hearing-impaired children and she hopes to enroll Tariro at the institution beginning this term. At first, said Mai Tariro, she was reluctant to have her child exposed to others as she feared stigmatisation.
Mai Tariro said sign language must be taught to all pupils so that affected children can easily communicate with their peers. She appealed to the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture to equip every trainee teacher with the necessary skills to manage and educate hearing-impaired pupils.
Very few teachers choose to speciliase in fields like sign language after graduating from college or university. Mashonaland West Chairperson of the Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped, Tichaona Mlauzi, said there was a growing need for mainstreaming sign language in schools. He said his organisation was lobbying to have sign language recognised as an official language.
It is estimated that 300 pupils have hearing impairments in Mashonaland West province.
‘Ministry fighting to assist disabled pupils’
Education minister David Coltart said his ministry was trying by all means to assist not only pupils with a hearing impairment, but all those with any form of disability.
He however, added that such efforts were being curtailed by shortage of funds.
“The situation is dire on the ground,” said Coltart.
“As long as we get little funds from government, such children will continue to be affected.”
In a bid to improve accessibility of education to pupils with hearing impairments, the government in 2010 put in place a policy that compels all schools to have a special class for children with disabilities.