In one of the most ambitious studies to establish the plight of disabled pupils the National Foundation for the Disabled is conducting a nationwide survey on how many secondary schools in the country offer facilities for such pupils.
Preliminary results already indicate that the facilities are non-existent both in rural and urban schools. Full results of the survey should be out in August-September.
The survey seeks to establish whether a school provides ramps for wheelchair users, whether toilets are constructed to facilitate wheelchair users, whether classroom furniture is suitable for disabled persons, if there are physio-therapy services provided at the school, the nearest health service and whether the school has any disabled pupils and special teachers for these pupils.
Although the survey is primarily aimed at proving the need for a secondary school for such pupils the survey will provide another jolt to the government which has invested billions into education but has so far failed to address the needs of the disabled.
The survey had the approval of the Ministry of Education which will also benefit tremendously from the results but will be hard pressed to meet the demands because of budgetary constraints.
The NFD has already been offered land by the Chegutu Town Council and has drafted plans for a $3.5 million school that will initially cater for 2 000 pupils.
NFD president, Clever Matsika, says although the school will have a bias towards the disabled it will also accommodate able-bodied pupils.
There is, however, disagreement among the disabled themselves over the establishment of such a school as some groups, notably the National Council for the Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe, are against the institutionalising of the disabled arguing that they must be integrated into society instead of being confined to “sheltered workshops”.
Another argument is that while the idea sounds good on paper, the school will only cater for a very small number since there are an estimated 800 000 disabled persons in the country.
While this will be a drop in the ocean, as Matsika himself admits, he says at least it will be a start.
“People are just talking about the problems of the disabled but they are doing nothing. The disabled are already disadvantaged in that there are no facilities to enable them to study in comfort, yet it is now a known fact that for anyone to enter into the labour market one must have five ‘O’ levels. You cannot do anything without them,” he says.