Learning for persons with disabilities in Kenya is expected to make positive gains after the government announced that it is implementing a Sh250 million virtual library that will also be accessible to them.
President Uhuru Kenyatta says the virtual library will have a section for persons with disabilities, where books and various materials will be made available in different formats including braille, audiobooks and large print format, to cater to special needs learners.
According to the President, the new library is expected to ensure that Kenyans have access to quality, timely and relevant information held by the Kenya National Library from the comfort of their homes.
The virtual library, which will be launched by June 2021, will have a capacity of 15 million publications.
“The first phase will digitize 800,000 books, periodicals, research papers and government publications. It will also contain 600,000 e-books, which are currently accessible offline through e-readers across 63 KNLS branches countrywide,” Kenyatta said.
This comes amid the coronavirus pandemic that has forced schools to take up virtual learning going forward.
Jackson Omkwana, an official of the Kenya Union of the Blind lamented to the media last month that there is a shortage of books in Braille for learners with special needs.
“The Ministry is however working with other stakeholders to ensure the books are put in digital formats. We also expect more copies of books in Braille to be made available in schools,” he told The Standard.
The announcement of the investment by President Kenyatta comes at a time when schools are preparing for re-opening in January.
Education experts have questioned whether special needs schools will be able to re-open, seeing that they already face too many challenges which include being poorly funded.
“Observing the COVID-19 containment guidelines will be a tall order for most special needs schools due to the unavailability of funds. We feel that schools have really been neglected,” Benedict Wanjala, a headteacher of a special needs school in Kakamega said.
Gains in the sector
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of special needs schools in the country had been on the rise.
Data by the Ministry of Education reveals that the number of special needs public secondary schools increased by 2.8 percent, from 106 in 2017 to 109 in 2018 and a further 4.6 percent to 114 in 2019.
During the same period, enrolment of special needs children in primary schools increased by 26 percent, from 108,221 learners in 2017 to 136,081 learners in 2019. Meanwhile, enrolment in public secondary schools rose by 19 percent, from 4,019 in 2017 to 4,794 in 2019.