By Elsa Koi

There is a lot I could say about my experience as a disabled person in Kenya’s 8.4.4 education system. This is also coupled with what my mother tells me.

Interestingly, at the age of 5, mom, realizing that I had interest in reading books and playing with pens and paper, decided that I start school.  This was not an easy decision for her as she recalls, since I couldn’t walk. She however made arrangements with the house help that we had then.  Therefore, my house help started taking me to school on her back. Yes, that’s right. I literally had to piggyback her to school.

Truly, joining school was the best decision that mom asserts she has never regretted.  This is because the school proved very useful in many ways.  When I look back through the years, the period between nursery school and Standard two were the best for me. I would top in class, even though it’s now over 19 years ago. I still remember how happy I used to get every closing day. I will be forever grateful to the teachers from my first school for they understood and gave me the attention I needed.

My mom’s faith and effort finally saw me walk at the age of 6 when I was in class 1. This made my next two years of my schooling at the school easier.   However, things changed when she was transferred from her work place.  Therefore, this forced me to change schools. This is when the reality of what many special needs children go through in mainstream schools dawned on me.

It was evident that my new school didn’t seem to understand me. The blackboard would be cleaned up before I would finish copying notes and so I had to rely on my friends for help. As the years went by, things became complicated and the teachers only focused on the clever students. Many are the times I went home crying due to the unpleasant incidents at school.  This in turn gave mom a wake-up call when I suddenly decided I wasn’t going to go school, staying home for two terms.  This was so hurting because I missed my friends and so I went back. Fortunately, I had very good friends who would always lend a hand wherever and however they could.

During this time, assessment was done by KISE, which recommended a regular school, mom opted to take me to a special school.  This was a big blow to me, having to say goodbye to my friends.   It was the hardest thing to do, but I had to. I also realized it was inevitable because the 8.4.4 system demanded too much of me that was not possible then. Then the Acorn Special Tutorial was my first boarding school which later opened other doors.

Coming back to the 8.4.4 system in Kenya, I should say I admire it and it has indeed brought up some of the best professionals in every field, who are accepted not only in Africa, but also the whole world. However, the education system has failed to reach out to some class of people, many who can’t keep up with the speed of copying notes from the blackboard like others can, those who need individual attention and those who can’t add up simple arithmetic,  but are talented in others areas.

Indeed, we are not the same and not all people with disability go through a hard time in the mainstream. Regrettably, majority of the special needs people are misunderstood and unwanted.  Our schools need to have a smaller number of students in a classroom for easy concentration and a one on one teacher- student relation. In every school, there should either be a special needs’ teacher, or our teachers should do a course in special education in order to identify and help those with learning disabilities.  This way, they would be led to discover their gifts and talents, outside books.