Towards Inclusion for Students with Special Needs: Understanding the Policy and Practice Gap in Kenya

November 15, 2022

Elisheba Kiru and Kennedy Kamau

The 2009 Special Needs Education (SNE) Policy Framework, the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, and the 2018 Sector Policy for Learners and Trainees with Disabilities articulate a vision for learners with special needs (RoK, 2009). The vision aspires to provide all students with access to education in inclusive environments. Implementation of the SNE policy framework can increase awareness about people with disabilities and ensure that students identified with special needs receive access to a rich curriculum, develop their potential and participate in society. Successful initiatives in Kenya towards providing students with special needs access to quality education are few. Some of the initiatives include development of teacher training manuals, creation of agencies such as The Directorate of Special Needs Education and the Directorate of Technical Education Vocational and Training with a mandate of providing policy directives that protect trainees with disabilities. Additionally, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has made financial investments by providing capitation grants for students with special needs that provides access to educational resources that empower them and increase their agency.

However, over a decade after the enactment of the 2009 SNE policy framework, the vision remains elusive. Therefore there is an urgent need to identify successfully implemented policies and conversely, identify policies that remain underdeveloped in order to achieve the vision of providing an inclusive education. Identifying successfully implemented policies can provide key information on necessary drivers for success, facilitate opportunities for scale-up to different schools and contexts, and illuminate areas that need additional support and clarification. This identification includes examining policies on increasing student enrolment, pedagogical practices and structural barriers.

The overall objective of the proposed research is to understand to what extent schools have implemented the SNE policy in schools in Kenya. Specific objectives include (a) assess  how schools support the implementation, (b) identify implementation gaps and their implications for inclusion in learning opportunities for children with learning disabilities, (c) examine the role of the school ecosystem and contextual drivers that promote SNE policy implementation. Our study uses a qualitative approach. We plan to conduct in-depth key informant interviews and focus group discussions with relevant stakeholders (e.g., parents, disability advocacy groups, school administrators, curriculum support officers, Kenya Institute of Special Education, MoE). We will also conduct a review of curriculum material, monitoring and evaluation reports, students’ portfolios, teaching and learning materials, and conduct classroom observations to further understand the inclusion practices that teachers incorporate in their teaching. Additionally, we will conduct a component analysis and identify the progress of implementation and current gaps. The study will be conducted across two counties, Nairobi and Mombasa. The selection criteria will focus on rural and urban areas. We will include low-cost private schools, public schools, day and boarding schools, single-gender and co-educational schools. We will disseminate our findings through conference presentations, policy briefs, blogs, research reports, journal publications and media engagements.