How the Proposed Basic Education Curriculum Caters for Learners with Special Educational Needs in Kenya
In May 2017, the Government of Kenya launched a pilot new Basic Education Curriculum Framework (BECF) which aims at nurturing the potential of every learner, including those with special educational needs. The curriculum is expected to catalyze the achievement of Kenya Vision 2030 as well as the National Education Goals, one of which is promoting social equity and responsibility. Under this goal, “education should provide inclusive and equitable access to quality and differentiated education, including for learners with special educational needs and disabilities.”
Over time, the government has demonstrated its commitment to provide education to children with special educational needs through a number of initiatives. These include the introduction of Educational Assessment and Resource Centres (EARCs) in 1984; the establishment of Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) in 1986; the enactment of Persons with Disabilities Act in 2003; and formulation of the Special Needs Education Policy in 2009. Recently (2017), the government has also established a Directorate of Special Needs under the Ministry of Basic Education to ensure efficient service delivery to learners with special needs.
Public schools have continued to dominate enrollment of special needs learners. For example, the Kenya 2014 School Census shows that out of the 251,542 special needs learners at primary school level, 97 per cent were enrolled in public primary schools. Similarly, out of the 14,098 learners with special needs enrolled at secondary school level, 90 per cent were in public schools. Non-governmental organizations have also played a key role in providing special needs education in Kenya, including, Leonard Cheshire Disability; Handicap International and Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO) Kenya.
There are high expectations that the proposed curriculum framework will make significant improvements in providing education for learners with special educational needs compared to the old (8-4-4) curriculum. The new framework, for example, has provisions for 15 categories of learners, namely: the visually impaired, hearing impaired, physically handicapped, mild cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and mild/moderate autism as well as learners with emotional and behavioral difficulties, communication disorders, gifted and talented, mental handicap, deaf-blind, severe autism, moderate and severe cerebral palsy, multiple handicaps and profound disabilities.
Previously, the gifted and talented as well as those with profound disabilities were not catered for. As noted in a Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD) press release dated 28 May 2017, the 8-4-4 curriculum places all learners in one basket of academia without emphasizing on identifying and nurturing talents. The new curriculum recognizes that a learner could be talented though academically weak. Further, the proposed curriculum provides for home-based and hospital intervention programmes to cater for children with serious disabilities who would find it difficult to attend formal schools. Therefore, the new curriculum is targeted to cover majority of the special needs categories of learners like in other countries such as Switzerland where chronically ill learners are offered hospital based programmes.
Under the proposed curriculum framework, special needs education will begin with functional assessment at Educational Assessment and Resource Centres (EARCs) as was the case in the old curriculum. The purpose of the functional assessment is to determine placement of a learner and the suitable intervention measure. The number of EARCs is, however, not sufficient as currently there are only 73 centres countrywide. After a learner has been assessed at an EARC, the curriculum provides for the following options: a learner may follow the regular curriculum with adaptation and or intervention programmes, a specialized curriculum, or a home and hospital-based programme. This is a development from the old curriculum in which learners with special educational needs used to only go through the regular curriculum but with adaptation and/or intervention programmes.
Learners proposed to follow the regular curriculum with adaptation and or intervention programmes, as was the case in the 8-4-4 curriculum, include: the visually impaired, hearing impaired, physically handicapped and those with mild cerebral palsy, mild/moderate autism, communication disorders, emotional and behaviour disorders, learning disabilities and those with moderate and severe cerebral palsy. The gifted and talented will follow the regular curriculum but with enrichment. By providing an enriched curriculum, it is hoped that the gifted and talented learners will be able to fully develop their abilities and potential.
The specialized curriculum will cater for the mental handicap, deaf-blind, severe autism, moderate and severe cerebral palsy and multiple handicaps. It provides for a standardized stage-based programme which was lacking in the old curriculum. This stage-based programme will entail foundation level, intermediate level, pre-vocational level and vocational level. The foundation level will be the first stage and learners will be equipped with communication, basic literacy and numeracy skills for learning. Afterwards, learners will transit to the intermediate level where they will advance on the skills acquired in foundation level. At pre-vocational and vocational level, learners will be equipped with various work-oriented skills such as weaving, cookery, hair dressing and beauty therapy, animal husbandry and carpentry, among others. Progression from one stage/level to another will depend on the acquired competencies and not a learner’s age.
Learners placed on the specialized curriculum can, however, be transferred to the regular curriculum with adaptation and or intervention programmes if they demonstrate remarkable improvements in learning. Further, these learners will sit for a standardized summative assessment by Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) at the end of the four stages and be provided with a certificate. Previously, they were not assessed by KNEC, since assessment and certification was left to individual schools. The home or hospital-based intervention programme will cater for learners with profound disabilities. This programme will not be stage-based but rather, focus on equipping the learners with basic skills in self-care, hygiene, sensory integration skills, communication and mobility and motor skill.
In order to effectively deliver the proposed competency-based curriculum, special needs courses will be part of the curriculum for teacher training colleges. Teachers will be equipped with skills on contemporary issues in the curriculum, such as gender, disability or special educational needs and health education. This preparation of teachers for implementation of the curriculum is mandated to the KICD.
Whereas the proposed curriculum shows improvement in catering for learners with special educational needs, there is need to regularly collect and maintain detailed data on children with special educational needs to inform policy and planning. To date, there has not been any national survey particularly on learners with special educational needs, implying that there is no up to date information regarding their status, more specifically at county level. In this regard, a national survey is required to ensure that as the new curriculum takes effect, no one is left behind.
Although the government has shown commitment towards financing special needs education, there is need to increase budgetary allocation to cover costs related to infrastructure development, purchase of assistive devices, learning resources and environmental adaptation. For instance, budgetary allocation for special needs in secondary education remained constant at Ksh 200 million for the financial years 2014/15 and 2015/16 despite increased enrolment of learners with special needs in secondary schools from 3,128 to 3,588 during the same period.
With the introduction of more categories of learners with special education needs under the proposed curriculum, more teachers need to be trained to meet the diverse needs. This is because such learners require individualized learning, which calls for special attention both in terms of time allocation and trainer skills.
Finally, the government needs to extend the services offered at EARCs to cover all counties and sub-counties and equip them with appropriate facilities and skilled specialists.
Authors: Juliana Mbithi and Esther Owino – KIPPRA Young Professionals in the Social Sector Division
Photo courtesy of: Precious Kids Center (for Disabled Children) Kenya