I attended a government school which was classified as a B school meaning that it was a sought after school by parents from middle to low income families. It was one of the rare cases when an affordable, actually, very affordable school still had good infrastructure and outstanding pass rates. I mean we had a functional swimming pool and a hockey team with sticks and fairly new kits so it was an ok school. I belabor this point and if you continue reading, you’ll understand why.
I started attending this school in grade 3 and on the very first day of school I was told to stay away from the boy in the special class… They said he had been rumored to chase girls into the girls toilet and press himself against them. I didn’t know what that meant at 8 years old but it sounded terrifying so i complied. Only to realise that this rumor was based on a single incident on his first day of school, a few years before I got there, where he mistakenly went into the girls toilet instead of the boys. Needless to say that the story had a pinch of salt added to it as it was retold to each new coming stream over the years.
At break time i saw the older boys form a circle around him. Taunting him till he screamed with frustration and chased them but because he couldn’t run as fast, the boys got away. Jeering and calling him names. This happened on most days until I finished grade 7. They made him the bad guy, the outsider, the laughing stock. Prefects didn’t help him. Teachers didn’t help him! They avoided him like a plague, like he was contagious. I wanted to know why. It just didn’t seem right! I’d also been told to avoid the special class. No-one really knew anything about this boy and his condition so their ignorance increased their fear. Students who shared the same corridor with the special class, would go round the block to get to the other side so as to avoid walking past that classroom. In fact it was a dark and dingy storage room turned classroom right next to the toilets!!!
After asking around I found out that the boy had Down-syndrome and that there were other children with different special needs in his class. I had always thought he was the only only one in the whole school and that was because the others were scared to come out of their classroom. They were afraid to be seen. Afraid to be treated differently and rightfully so! I also found out that there were children of different ages in that same class and this made me ask myself a few questions…
- Why did the school that could afford to keep the swimming pool running, not have a decent classroom for children with special needs?
- Did the school really teach children with special needs effectively if this boy who seemed much older than I was, was there when I got there and still there after I left? I understand that Children with DS develop at their own pace but surely putting him there with children much younger than him didn’t do much for his progress. This made me ask the following…
- Did the teacher teach each child at their personal level or did they just do blanket lessons regardless of the child’s capabilities?
- Could they not afford to hire a few more teachers skilled in teaching children with special needs then dividing the class accordingly?
The sad reality is that they could afford it but they chose to focus their funds elsewhere because it was just not a priority for them!
There is a serious need for workshops in schools that educate both students and teachers alike about various conditions affecting students among them and how best they can be assisted. Knowledge should lead to better integration. If you know of organisations in and around Zimbabwe or anywhere in the world that work with children who have special needs please comment with their details. We would like to have a page on our website with that information to help spread awareness! Also if you have any suggestions on how schools can improve services for children with special needs or if you simply want to share your experiences with us, feel free to comment below.