Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe: Policy, Curriculum, Practice, Family, and Teacher Education Issues

Article excerpt

In the Zimbabwean context, inclusive education involves the identification and minimization or elimination of barriers to students' participation in traditional settings (i.e., schools, homes, communities, and workplaces) and the maximization of resources to support learning and participation (Chimedza & Peters, 1999; Mpofu, 2004). In school settings, successful inclusion results in students' and their families' participation in the regular activities of the school community while meeting their unique needs, as well as contributing to the development of the school community. This article considers aspects of curriculum and classroom practices, the role of families, teacher preparation, and government policies that influence qualities of inclusive education, as practiced in Zimbabwe.

The Context of Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is located in the south-central region of Africa, and its economy is mostly rural agricultural, although manufacturing and mining are increasingly becoming significant. The country has a population of approximately 12 million, of which 80 percent is rural, black African. Most Zimbabweans (about 80 percent) are Shona-speaking. Minority cultural groups in Zimbabwe include the Ndebele/Nguni, Venda, Tonga, Asians, and whites. The Zimbabwean national literacy rate of 90 percent is one of the highest in the world (UNICEF, 2006).

About three million children (90 percent of the total school-age population) attend school in Zimbabwe (Education Management Information Systems, 2004). Of these, 14,115 students with mental retardation, 50,000 children with learning disabilities, 1,634 children with hearing impairment, and 2,635 students with blindness or visual impairment attended school in Zimbabwe in 2004 (Education Management Information Systems, 2004; Mpofu, Mutepfa, Chireshe & Kasayira, in press). If one applies the World Health Organization's (WHO) estimate of 10 percent of children worldwide who have a disability (WHO, 2004), Zimbabwe is likely to have about 300,000 school-age children who have a disability.

The Zimbabwe School Psychological Services and Special Education (SPS & SE) department has the primary responsibility for supporting schools in their inclusive education practices (Mpofu, Mutepfa, Chireshe, & Kasayira, in press). It provides inservice training and support in the application of applied behavior analysis and teaching of students with disabilities. The SPS & SE department also provides a wide range of counseling services (Mpofu & Nyanungo, 1998).

There is no specific legislation for inclusive education in Zimbabwe (Mpofu, 2004). However, a number of government policy issues are consistent with the intent of inclusive education. For example, the Zimbabwe Education Act (Education Act, 1996), the Disabled Persons Act (Disabled Persons Act, 1996), and various Ministry of Education circulars (Education Secretary's Policy Circular No. P36, 1990) require that all students, regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, and disability, have access to basic or primary education (up to Grade 7). Yet, the Disabled Persons Act (1996) does not commit the government to providing inclusive education in any concrete way; in fact, it specifically prevents citizens with disabilities from suing the Zimbabwean government regarding government facility access issues that may impair their community participation (Mpofu, Kasayira et al., 2006). In the absence of any mandatory order stipulating the services to be provided, and by whom, how, when, and where, there could be no meaningful educational services for learners with disabilities in Zimbabwe.

The Secretary for Education's directive for inclusive education requires schools to provide equal access to education for learners with disabilities, routinely screen for any form of disability, and admit any school-age child, regardless of ability. Any school that refuses to enroll a child on grounds of disability is in violation of the Disabled Persons Act (1996) and faces disciplinary action from the District Education Office. …