A dream school for inclusive education in Zimbabwe: The power of assistive devices

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This blog was originally posted on globalpartnership.org  by Rutendo Bamhare, UNICEF Zimbabwe, on April 24, 2024

In Zimbabwe, a program funded by GPE and partners is enhancing educational opportunities and results for children with disabilities.

This story was previously published on UNICEF's website.

Gweru, Zimbabwe-In the heart of Zimbabwe's Midlands Province is Lower Gweru Primary School, a dream school for inclusive education. Mqondisi Ndlovu, 13, and Leroy Chikwangare, 10, are absorbed in their English assignment on “Prepositions,” working in braille, a challenging task, as any error could distort the words' meaning.

Their teacher, Ms. Nyambedzi Nyahuhu, 42, a specialist in visual impairment, meticulously converts their braille work into print for evaluation. She believes in close supervision to ensure her students' proficiency, aiming to prepare them for independent braille writing in class, a successful strategy she's implemented with her older students.

“Although the boys attend classes together with other students since they are still learning how to read and write in braille, after each lesson, I have them do their assignments under my close watch to avoid mistakes,” she explains with pride in her method.

The two adolescent boys are both in grade 2, ordinarily suited for children aged seven. They started school late because of their visual impairment, a trend Ms Nyambedzi attributes to parents and caregivers not knowing which schools could accommodate their children’s needs.

a teacher sitting and smiling at the camera
Ms. Nyambedzi Nyahuhu, 42, a specialist in visual impairment and teacher at Lower Gweru Primary School using a braille typewriter.
Credit: Shift Media

Children with disabilities frequently encounter various obstacles in accessing social services, including education. These barriers, stemming from physical, communicational, informational, and attitudinal challenges, hinder their full participation in community life.

According to the Education Management Information System (EMIS) 2022 data, there are a 141,177 learners with disabilities, constituting only 10% of the children with disabilities in the country who have access to education.

These figures indicate a significant gap in educational provision for these learners with disabilities.

Branden Ncube, 54, the headmaster at Lower Gweru, advocates for inclusive education. He emphasises that their approach allows children with disabilities to learn alongside their peers, fostering a sense of equality and integration in the community. “We ensure that children with disabilities see themselves as valuable members of society, helping them reach their full potential," Mr Ncube says.

The Amended Education Act of 2020 mandates inclusive education for all students, including children with disabilities. In alignment with this, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has actively pursued the integration of children with disabilities into mainstream schools, a move central to achieving true inclusivity.

Additionally, the establishment of resource units and specialized schools is underway to address the diverse needs of students with various impairments. Lower Gweru Primary is one of the 470 already established resource units within schools, offering services for visual, hearing, physical and mental impairments.

close up of a kid hand using a braille slate
Child with visual impairment using braille slate at Lower Gweru Primary School.
Credit: Shift Media

Mqondisi and Leroy, residing in the school's boarding house, have formed meaningful friendships. They navigate their school life using various assistive devices, enabling them to function on par with their classmates.

Access to assistive devices helps maintain or improve an individual's functioning related to cognition, communication, hearing, mobility, self-care, and vision, thus enabling their health, well-being, inclusion, and participation.

With financial aid from the United Kingdom and GPE, UNICEF has supported 77,000 children in 2022/23 with disabilities (35,000 girls and 42,000 boys) with assistive devices aimed to address a broad spectrum of impairments (visual, hearing, and physical), including braille orbit readers, wheelchairs, walking frames, and crutches.

a kid with headset using a calculator
Leroy Chikwangare, 10, using speaking calculator assistive device at Lower Gweru Primary School.
Credit: Shift Media


Isaac Makanani, a UNICEF Education Specialist in Learner Welfare, stresses the need for tailored educational responses and suitable assistive devices for children with disabilities, premised on a focus on understanding their unique challenges and locations.

"To enhance educational opportunities and outcomes for children with disabilities, it's crucial to identify these children, understand their challenges and the barriers they face in accessing education, and, importantly, to customize responses and devices to their specific needs," states Isaac Makanani.

With determination and focus, Mqondisi and Leroy completed their English assignment flawlessly. This achievement is a testament to inclusive education. In this nurturing environment, children are not just learning; they are thriving, affirming a dream school needs to be inclusive.

UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and partners to address the education challenges in Zimbabwe.

UNICEF’s support to the education programs led by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education is funded by the United Kingdom and the Global Partnership for Education.


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