"An advantage for the disadvantaged" is how one parent recently described the special class that is available for children with special needs at SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School Blantyre in Malawi.
"It's rainy season in Malawi and schools have just opened the first term of the 2009 school session. It is all smiles; children are back to school after a long summer holiday. Now it's time for parents and guardians to flock to SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School Blantyre to look for school places for their children. However, there are just too many to be accommodated at the school. My in tray is still full of application letters for school places that have already been filled long before the start of the new term.
One may wonder why parents and guardians flock to this school in large numbers. The reason is simple. The SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School Blantyre provides a quality of education that is to be enjoyed by both children from the nearby SOS Children's Village and those from the community around SOS Children's Village.
SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School Blantyre has registered a 100% pass rate in the 2008 national examinations; 34 learners sat for the exams, and all of them passed. Out of this figure, 23 were selected to go forward to government secondary schools, representing 67.6%; a development which has raised the eye brows of many schools around. For Malawi, and Blantyre in particular, this is a high percentage of children who went forward to secondary education at the beginning of 2009.
In the year 2009, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School Blantyre has introduced a special class for learners with learning difficulties. The class started on 12 January, 2009, and so far, it has registered 13 children and out of these, seven are integrated into the main stream classes and only come to the special needs class for a couple of sessions or so each week to help them not to fall far behind their peers, or to give them any special attention or aids that they may need.
The remaining six children spend their school day with the special needs teacher who helps them according to their individual needs and requirements. The special class teacher is trying her best to make sure that these children excel in their education. She has been supplied to the school by the government, just the same as the other teachers in the school.
However, the work is facing some challenges since some learners are using wheel chairs and the school is not yet disability friendly, making the environment difficult for them. There is need to construct pavements for wheelchairs and efforts are underway to address the problem. Many steps are also being replaced with gentle ramps, too.
Materials to be used by learners with learning difficulties are a challenge as the class has only just been inaugurated, but plans are underway for further materials to be made available very soon. In the meantime, if you were to visit the classroom you would be amazed at the ingenuity of the teacher and the children themselves in the production of home made learning aids.
Will the school increase the intake of learners with learning difficulties? My answer is obvious - yes! If it gets support, chances are high that intake may increase and the school is planning big things for all learners and especially for learners with learning difficulties. We certainly want to be known as an advantage for the disadvantaged!"
Article written by Hastings Kumemba, Head teacher, SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary School Blantyre.