Address by Education Minister David Coltart at the School for All: 30th Anniversary of Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust

Senator David Coltart

Westwood, Harare, 15th September 2011 

Address by Education Minister David Coltart at the

School for All: 30th Anniversary of Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust Launch of an Inclusive Education manual entitled “Breaking Down Barriers to Inclusive Education in Zimbabwe”

Ladies and Gentlemen and Children

The Inclusive Education Teacher’s Handbook being officially launched here today is an important event. We rather like the word ‘inclusive’ – it is the inclusive government which has brought Zimbabwe back from the brink of destruction, so it’s a good concept which must be applied to education. It sets out to facilitate the management of children with and without disabilities in the same classroom environment. I am delighted to hear of the progress made in schools since Vice President Mujuru and I launched the Inclusive Policy last year.

Zimbabwe is well known for its commitment to providing education for all its children. It has been my ministry’s desire for many years to see children with disabilities included in ordinary schools. The launch of the Inclusive Education Teacher’s Handbook today is a milestone development that is a culmination of several dedicated players, with Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust taking the leading role in coordinating this development process and assisted by officers from my Ministry and those from the Zimbabwe Open University. I wish to commend all those who took an active part in making the dream become true. I am also aware of the work done by the Directorate in the schools psychological services and Special Needs Education Department, some District Education Officers, Headmasters and teachers.  I am also aware of the wonderful contribution made by organisations such as the Dorothy Duncan Centre and King George VI. I also acknowledge support of UNICEF and partners in the Education Transition Fund, which has resulted in the production of Braille books which are now in all schools countrywide.

However, while we do have children with disabilities in some of your schools and have a number of schools with special classes for children with learning disabilities, a number of factors have militated against the full realisation of our ideals.

A major limitation has been inadequate resources. The difficult years of hyperinflation have seen many previously well resourced schools struggling to provide basic educational materials and keep their furniture and equipment in good repair. In addition, our centre in Mount Pleasant is in a very poor state. Equipment is not working. They recently had a meeting with the CEO of a local bank and are hoping that they will rehabilitate it.

Government’s thrust to provide education for everyone required huge resources and Government has had to rely on parents and communities to play a major role in providing many of the resources that their schools and children need.

Resource constraints affected too special units within schools for children with learning disabilities. Some of these units had very little in the way of special teaching aids. In some case parents formed support groups for these classes and purchased some of the equipment they needed.

Schools specifically for children with disabilities, such as those run by the Jairos Jiri Association, King George VI, Zimcare and St Giles, also suffered severe resource restraints in recent years.

We welcome partnerships with non-governmental organisations such as Leonard Cheshire in trying to ensure that all our children are able to enjoy a high quality of education.

When it comes to integrating children with disabilities into schools with a predominantly non-disabled enrolment, the difficulties in achieving this go beyond resources.

Whilst the lack of ramps and toilets designed for pupils with disabilities may be a limiting factor , I am pleased to see that Leonard Cheshire has already made remarkable adaptations in 19 schools since the inception of this programme.

However, another major limitation is the attitude of families, communities, teachers, parents and other children towards children with disabilities. I am pleased that this is an area that the Leonard Cheshire project is tackling too through their disability community awareness and sensation programme.

While we are proud of the fact that most of the schools in which this project began already have children with disabilities enrolled as a result of this programme, it is obviously a matter of concern that there are many more children with disabilities who have not enrolled in school.

This project is already helping the targeted government schools to overcome the challenges they face in catering for disabled as well as able-bodied children. It should also facilitate the eventual enrolment in these schools of other disabled children who are not currently attending school.

My Ministry shares the Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust’s vision of children with disabilities and able-bodied students eventually learning together in schools throughout the country.

What is most encouraging about this project is its practical approach and the dynamism that has already been displayed in getting this project off the ground.

I very much hope it will be successful. However, we must not underestimate the difficulties.

A major difficulty in Government schools is sure to be the pupil to teacher ratio which is too high in many of our schools, with a single teacher often having to teach 50 children. With that number of children in a class, it becomes difficult for a teacher to give children the individual attention they require. Where a child need extra help the problem is worse still. We therefore urge parents to take an active part in helping alleviate some of the challenges teachers face by participating as classroom assistants.

In schools that have a special unit for children with learning disabilities, some of whom have a degree of physical disability as well, other teachers sometimes resent the lower pupil to teacher ratio that is necessary in these classes.

The trend in many countries is towards integrating children with disabilities in ordinary schools along with the non-disabled. However, often this is at a policy level and there is less keenness for it at the school level.

Organisations such as Leonard Cheshire are needed not only to lobby for the inclusion of disabled children in ordinary schools and the provision of facilities to accommodate them but to educate parents and teachers.

The Government believes that every child should have the right to go to school and to have an education. It would be my wish that my Ministry did more to promote the integration of children with disabilities in ordinary schools. However, you are all aware of the severe financial constraints my Ministry is faced with. In terms of this year’s budget I have less than US$2 per child per month to educate them, an impossible task without partners.

We welcome this initiative, therefore, which has been clearly well thought out, providing as it does for the targeting of specific schools, training of teachers in inclusive teaching methods, development of manuals to assist teachers, implementing adaptations such as toilets and ramps, educating parents and community members on disability issues and facilitating the provision of mobility aids for children requiring them. Most importantly we need to applaud Leonard Cheshire for facilitating the development of a Teacher’s Handbook on Inclusive Education for use by all schools in Zimbabwe, a development that is quite historic indeed.

This is a critical handbook which I believe will benefit considerably not only those schools that have been targeted but also other schools and communities outside the pilot zone.

This is, of course, a pilot project. The hope is that it will prove so successful that the concept of inclusive education will be extended to all our schools.

I would certainly like to see training in inclusive education being taught at all our teacher training colleges. Every teacher should be able to teach in an inclusive education environment. This also encourages non-government schools to teach inclusively. An example of a school I have had a close interest in is Petra, which works very closely with King George VI in Bulawayo, especially at Upper Sixth level. As I speak I two graduates with severe disabilities have now been enrolled in US universities having obtained scholarships – for them the sky is the limit, and should be for all.

I should like to congratulate Leonard Cheshire Disability and the Leonard Cheshire Zimbabwe Trust for initiating this project. I can assure them that they will continue to have the full cooperation and support of my Ministry.

I would like to thank the Anglo American Group Foundation for sponsoring this project and would encourage other corporate bodies to help organisations like Leonard Cheshire to make a difference to our society.

This is a worthwhile project. I am sure that, working together, my Ministry and Leonard Cheshire will be able to make this project a success and an important step towards more widespread inclusive education.

It is now my honour to finally launch the Inclusive Education Teacher’s Handbook.

Thank you.

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