Insufficient training resources and the absence of user-friendly facilities in schools nationwide continue to pose obstacles to achieving social inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities within the framework of a Unified Champion Schools model.
This was revealed in Mzuzu during a summit on MBZ Unified Champion Schools organized by Special Olympics Malawi.
The summit was convened to address the challenges encountered by learners with intellectual disabilities, whether in a classroom or on the sports field.
The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools model is a comprehensive school-based approach designed to foster social inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities by integrating inclusive activities seamlessly into the everyday life of the school.
It aims at fostering a culture of understanding, empathy, and genuine inclusion within schools, reshaping daily interactions among students.
Sponsored by His Highness, the Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the program features a distinctive three-component model. This model integrates effective inclusive sports, inclusive leadership opportunities, and comprehensive school-wide engagement to cultivate environments of acceptance.
Speaking to Capital FM, Special Olympics Malawi National Director Enid Mauluka points out that while there have been strides made in bolstering inclusive education, there is still significant work ahead.
Back in 2016/17, a policy was endorsed to reinforce inclusive education in schools, envisioning that every school should be inclusive. Although some measures have been implemented, Mauluka notes existing challenges.
“For example one of our leaders highlighted that training resources to promote inclusion are not there and where available, they are limited to only a few primary or government schools. Other challenges include learning materials, facilities that are not user-friendly, and teachers who do not know about special needs education,” Mauluka said.
She added; “However, I also understand that institutions like Montfort have started including a component of intellectual disabilities in their curriculum, so steps are being taken but we are not yet there.”
Mauluka said recognizing their role; they are collaborating with the Ministry of Education to create an inclusive environment for individuals with intellectual disabilities to create inclusivity in all aspects of education and sports.
Mauluka said; “Our vision is to create an environment where people don’t segregate themselves. We should not label classes for people with intellectual disabilities. If it is a team, it should simply, be seen as a team, a class should just be a class not to say this is a resource center or a classroom for special needs. We should all be united; we should be uniform that is what I am looking forward to seeing.”
On his part, Lot Chalamanda, the Athlete Leader for Special Olympics Malawi in Mzimba South emphasized the importance of widespread awareness campaigns to shift public perceptions regarding individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Chalamanda stated that individuals with intellectual disabilities face discrimination and bullying, encounter academic challenges, and struggle with low self-esteem due to a lack of opportunities and denial of opportunities.
“They lack encouragement and the respect they deserve. Due to their disabilities, they are often looked down upon, subjected to negative comments, and face a prevailing negative attitude towards their disabilities. This is mostly out of ignorance regarding the reasons behind their behavior,” he said.
Chalamanda emphasized; “We must provide education and awareness to help people understand that bullying and teasing individuals with disabilities is unacceptable, not only morally but also spiritually. We must strive to change.”