Sofia Kedir is the mother of four living in Adama town, a hundred km east of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. With the exception of her eldest, Sofia’s three children have had hearing impairments since birth.
Her second-born attended the local Geda Kilole school up to grade four. But she said she couldn’t find a school for him that provides inclusive education.
There is a school in Addis Ababa, for students with hearing impairment. However, Sophia cannot afford to relocate to the capital with her four children.
Sofia didn’t have any choice but to send her second-born to a regular school for three consecutive years after his fourth grade. However, he quit after that as he couldn’t understand what was being said and thus couldn’t interact and build friendships with his classmates.
Sofia’s other two children are still attending the Geda Kilole school as they haven’t reached the fourth grade yet.
In Adama, seven schools give inclusive education to students with special needs. Geda Kilole, Geda Robele, Geda Michile, Dambale, Oda, and Burka Boku are the six public schools while St. Antony is a private institution.
Meseret Kena is the head of the Special Education and Inclusive Education Department of Geda Kilole School. Special Education provides separate classrooms and teaching processes while Inclusive Education allows the students to join the regular ones in regular classrooms.
“The number of teachers and assistant teachers trained in special needs is limited. The lack of suitable infrastructure is another obstacle students with special needs come across,” says Meseret explaining the impediments to their efforts.
Meseret added that the lack of educational materials is another problem that affects their work.
Geda Kilole provides education for students with special needs only from 1st grade up to the 4th. After that, the students have to join the regular pupils as there is no further financial support available to the school.
Meseret says most of them drop out of school after the 4th grade as they can’t cope with the peer pressure and the shortage of educational materials specially prepared for them.
The only private school providing inclusive education is St. Anthony primary school, established in 2014. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the school had 27 students with physical and mental impairments. But in the last 2021/2022 Ethiopian academic year they had only eight students. As Hana said, they are still accepting applications and are not sure how many students will join them.
Mother Hanna Mengistu, the Directress of St. Antony, says that currently, the school has only one teacher for the kids with special needs. “The lack of trained professionals on special needs and inclusive education is our major limitation not to reach out to many,” she says.
St. Antony provides the service for special needs students in preschool classes, from nursery to UKG (Upper Kindergarten). This means the students get three years of education at St. Anthony’s preschool.
Mother Hanna added, “We work to qualify them for an elementary school in the three years they stay with us. However, there is no school that accepts them afterward. For this reason, they return to us to stay longer here.”
Tigist Nigussie is an expert in the field of special and inclusive education at Adama Education Bureau. She also asserted that there is a shortage of well-educated trainers for special-needs students, which is the main problem.
Frehiwot Kassaye, a special-needs teacher in Geda Michile School in Adama, is a graduate of Ethiopian Sign Language from Addis Ababa University. She disagrees with Tigist about the number of trained professionals.
“There are many educated people on special needs education in the market. But they are not encouraged in their working space,” said Frehiwot.
Frehiwot says the number of people with special needs and the schools that provide special education services in Adama is unmatched.
“The government doesn’t pay due attention to the problem. There is no adequate training for special needs trainers. There is a shortage of materials and a lack of infrastructure suitable for people with special needs. People who are in wheelchairs need ramps and wide doors. The toilets are also not suitable,” explained Frehiwot.
Tigist told us in the 2022/2023 Ethiopian academic year, the Adama Education Office planned to admit 432 students with different disabilities. As she said the education office planned the data from different stakeholders so this year we have 432 students who need special needs and inclusive education.”
However, they have so far registered only 167 students from beginners up to the 12th grade.