Antony Were is a GPE youth leader from Kenya.
1. What impact has COVID-19 had on education in Kenya, and in your community in the Kakuma refugee camp?
Since schools closed in Kenya, the Ministry of Education and other agencies have indicated that learners should undertake online learning or technology-mediated learning on TV, radio, ed-tech apps, and mobile phones.
While such learning may take place in urban areas, learning in the context of COVID-19 school closures is a challenge for many marginalized children in remote villages, including children in Kakuma refugee camp as well as those living with various disabilities.
Learning mediated through ed-tech remains out of reach for many disadvantaged children due to connectivity and accessibility challenges. In remote parts of Kajiado, Narok, Samburu, Turkana, and Kilifi counties, for example, electricity does not reach households, excluding children from online learning.
While COVID-19 has affected nearly all learners globally, school closures in Kakuma camp have exacerbated existing inequalities, especially for vulnerable groups. We must put in place protection solutions particularly for vulnerable girls, and ensure that all children have access to life-saving education.
2. What challenges did you have to overcome to complete your education, and how did your school support you?
When I was at school, there were some communication barriers between the teachers and those of us who were deaf. Teachers didn't know sign language, so teaching was a problem, and students who relied on sign language would miss a lot. While the school trained the teachers who were employed there, they only had basic skills in sign language.
My school decided to employ a qualified teacher and a sign language interpreter to break this barrier, which was unusual at that time. Since then, things have improved both in Kenya, with the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, focusing on no discrimination, and the introduction of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality inclusive education in 2015. Hopefully that will change things for the better in all schools across Kenya.
That’s one of the reasons I went into the teaching profession and became an inclusive teacher and supported other teachers to become inclusive. It was so I could help to break this cycle and make sure that other learners didn’t go through the same challenges I did.
3. What are the three most important changes to education systems to ensure inclusive education for all children?
- It’s important that education systems respond to all children; there shouldn’t be a separate system for children with disabilities. Education systems need to be fully inclusive of all children. This approach helps create a more inclusive and disability-friendly society, rather than a segregated society.
- Education systems need to think about ways of making school buildings more inclusive, such as providing accessible washrooms or access ramps, and ensuring that all the usual activities are suitable for children with disabilities, including sports.
- Additional funding to support specific needs of children with disabilities must be put aside, such as sign language interpreters, braille paper and assistive devices to help them learn in school.
4. GPE’s Raise Your Hand financing campaign seeks to raise at least $5 billion over five years to continue transforming education systems in up to 90 lower-income countries and territories. Why is a fully funded GPE so important to ensure that no children are left behind?
GPE’s partnership with countries like Kenya provides funding, and supports equity and inclusion so that all children, and not just those whose parents can afford it, access education. If there isn’t enough education budget, including money specifically for inclusive education, there won’t be enough funds to pay for the extra support for assistants or sign language interpreters or the extra training that teachers need.
Schools need money to become fully inclusive. They can’t just become inclusive with a one-off training on disability inclusion or by giving money to build a ramp. This funding needs to be comprehensive.
This COVID-19 pandemic has shown how disadvantaged children are left behind. Many can’t get connected, or they can’t see or hear the content anyway, or they don’t have the devices to go online or watch TV shows with the curriculum content. Extra funding is needed to pay for this, so that the gap between these different groups in society doesn’t grow even larger.
5. What do you remember most about school? Were there moments or teachers that had a particularly big impact on you?
It’s so important for teachers to understand how to treat, encourage and counsel their students. I tried to do this when I was teaching in school, and now I am training other teachers to be more inclusive. I also encourage them to do the same.
Listening to what students have to say, and understanding their feelings can really help, and also helping the other students see the challenges that children with disabilities have can help too.
I remember my religious education teacher who helped me a lot by encouraging me as a deaf child to accept myself the way I am. He said that God loves me the way I am. He taught me to understand that I was just the same as any other child and the only difference is just that I speak with my hands and listen with my eyes.