Three students walking in front of their school

Inclusion / Kenya

Story by Kassidie Cornell and Candice Lipski

Additional reporting by Lydia Mukari Okang’a, Drusilla Anyango and Nkurikiyinka Julien Astrida

Around the globe, children with disabilities face barriers to education. They often don’t receive enough specialized support from teachers and can be marginalized by classmates. In Kenya, the education system is being overhauled in an effort to create a more inclusive school system and curriculum that focuses on the needs of individual students, including those with disabilities.

The Global Reporting Program travelled to Kenya in February 2020 just before the pandemic led to school and border closures. The team met with teachers, students and parents to explore how Kenya’s focus on inclusion is affecting students including those with visual impairments. Our story begins at a school in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

A grade 2 teacher giving a spelling test to her class
Beth Wanjiru Kimani, a Grade 2 teacher at Kilimani Primary School, gives a spelling test to her students on Feb. 13, 2020. She has one student with a visual impairment. Kimani pauses often between each word to make sure that the student has enough time to type their answer on a braille typewriter. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
Teaching braille to a student
Jacqueline Khalechi Shikala teaches braille to a student in the foundations class in the visual impairment (VI) unit at Kilimani Primary School. Shikala was inspired to teach by her father, who also taught students with visual impairments. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
Pushing a young student on a large swing
Mary Maragia pushes a student on a large swing at school. Mary is in charge of the deafblind unit at Kilimani Primary School. The playground includes several accessible equipment options. Though students in the deafblind unit require more attention, they are included in many aspects of school life — including outdoor activities. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
A student sitting outside a soundproof sensory room
A student sits on the floor in the deafblind unit at Kilimani Primary School. Behind the blue door is a soundproof sensory room with lights and textured objects. The room can be made dark and quiet if the student needs it to be, or bright and loud to stimulate the senses. At this school, unlike most in Kenya, they support students with cognitive and physical impairments. (Photo by Mike Lakusiak)
A book designed to teach students about sizes
This book from the deafblind unit at Kilimani Primary School in Nairobi uses different shapes and textures to teach students about size. Directions are written in braille at the top of the page. (Photo by Mike Lakusiak)
Two girls carrying a bucket of water through a courtyard
An hour outside of Nairobi, at Karuri Primary School in Kiambu County, two girls work together to carry a heavy bucket of water through the courtyard. Unlike Kilimani Primary School, this public school is not equipped to accommodate students who have severe cognitive or physical impairments. The teachers have limited access to resources and refer to some students as ‘time takers’ because they require extra time and assistance to learn. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
Students waiting outside for an assembly to start
Students line up outside for an assembly and flag raising ceremony at Karuri School. These students learn in crowded classrooms — many have more than 40 students per teacher. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
A teacher giving an English lesson
Fourth-grade teacher Peter Mucheru Karanja gives an English lesson to his class at Karuri School. In 2017, the Kenyan Ministry of Education introduced a new country-wide curriculum called the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC). This overhaul is replacing the former 8-4-4 system, which prioritized test scores and examinations. Instead, the CBC emphasizes the need for inclusion in the classroom and focuses on tailoring learning goals to students’ individual needs. (Photo by Mike Lakusiak)
Students looking up at their teacher
Fourth-grade students look up at their teacher while she delivers a Swahili lesson at Karuri School. The school hopes to open a new classroom to accommodate students with disabilities in light of the 2017 Competency Based Curriculum, which emphasizes inclusion. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
A teacher smiling
Second-grade teacher Alice Mjoki Mburu from Karuri Primary School says she and other teachers at the school of nearly 900 often forgo their break times to help students who need more one-on-one instruction. The lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms and shortage of teachers in Kenya, present a significant challenge for implementing the new Competency Based Curriculum. A 2021 study said that teachers alone can’t implement this new curriculum — there has to be further investment in training, resources and parental support. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
A student writing in her notebook
A student writes in her notebook at Father Joseph Richetti Primary School in Kiambu County, a private school an hour’s drive outside of Nairobi. The student has her own desk — a stark contrast to Karuri Primary, the public school next door. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
Students wearing tracksuits standing up to greet their teacher
Students at Father Joseph Richetti School stand to greet their teacher. On Fridays, the students wear special tracksuit uniforms for sport outings. Classes here usually have fewer than 30 children. The school does teach a few students who require more time to learn, but they do not accommodate students with physical or cognitive disabilities. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
A mother and daughter outside their home
Mercy Wambui Ngugi and her daughter Leona Wanjiru stand outside their home in Kiambu County. Mercy sends her daughter to private school at Father Joseph Richetti because she says the quality of education is better than public schools. Mercy often meets with Leona's teachers for one-on-one sessions, and is part of a parent WhatsApp group. (Photo by Kassidie Cornell)
A smiling boy wearing an orange shirt
Back at Kilimani Primary School in Nairobi, Musa Ogera Mbane is finished school for the day. Ten-year old Musa contracted meningitis when he was only a couple of months old, leaving him with visual and cognitive impairments. Musa’s father Makarius Ogera Mbane says he nearly gave up on the school system because Musa was not making progress. Then he found Kilimani. Makarius says he wants to provide his son with the best education possible and he is pleased with Musa’s progress. (Photo by Candice Lipski)
A teacher in the visual impairment unit
David Gitau is a teacher in the visual impairment unit at Kilimani Primary School in Nairobi. He has been blind since birth and says when he was in school there were no supports or resources. He remembers a time when he was punished for failing his examinations because he was unable to complete the necessary drawing exercise. Today, David is leading the new curricular changes to bring inclusive approaches into classrooms to ensure students with visual impairments can learn beside their sighted classmates. We followed up with David on August 27, 2021. He said the pandemic has been difficult and has led to new challenges, including slowing down the country’s push toward inclusive education. He remains positive and hopeful, saying it’s important to continue to encourage one another. (Photo by Candice Lipski)