1.0 INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
2.0 CLOSURE OF LEARNING INSTITUTIONS
2.1 E-LEARNING PLATFORMS
3.0 SOCIAL/PHYSICAL DISTANCING/KEEPING AT HOME SAFE
4.0 OPPORTUNITIES DUE TO THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC
The daily lives of people all over the world have been affected significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact has also affected children with disabilities in various ways. All children, with or without disabilities have had their education and all aspects of life interrupted greatly during the pandemic. The effects of the pandemic will go on for a long time as the new norm sets in, in all aspects of our lives. The present study has explored the challenges facing children with disabilities and opportunities arising thereof in inclusive settings during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The study is based on findings from the library sources and observations are that children with disabilities missed all benefits associated with being in schools such as lack of understanding friends and teachers, regular meals, and emotional stability due to structured school routines. Most children with disabilities perceive school as their second home as they stay there for most of the year. During the pandemic, it was observed that children with disabilities missed assistance of school friends and services of interpreters, transcribers and readers. In addition, children with disabilities did not benefit from online teaching and learning due to their various forms of disability and diverse needs. There was also no prior preparation before the school closure to train teachers and other staff on how to continue teaching or training children with special needs. To date, there are still challenges facing the regular education systems such as lack of internet connectivity in most areas of the country, inadequate training of teachers, lack of bundles and gadgets necessary to facilitate learning. In the situation of learners with disabilities, their diverse needs have to be addressed first for them to benefit and this will take a long time. There is an effort by the government to make adjustments on the current infrastructure to facilitate learning during the pandemic but we still have a long way to go as a lot of money is required and time to meet the expected standards to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading further while in academic institutions. The measures have to address water point accessibility, the physical distance between helpers and children with disability, hygiene measures which require a lot of training over a long time for some types of disability and also the medical conditions of some of the children. Persons with disabilities should be involved in all decision making to ensure that communities are inclusive. It will take the effort of all stakeholders to bring their ideas together to enable communities to be inclusive and accommodate all children and persons with disabilities to learn and thrive successfully.
KEY WORDS: COVID-19 pandemic, Challenges, opportunities, Inclusive settings, Children with Disabilities
1.0 INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
According to Buchanan (2020) children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable group of people in the world. Children with disabilities are neglected, marginalized, stigmatized and discriminated against in most of the social activities including the provision of services such as health care, education, social, information among others in normal circumstances. With the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation and lives of children with disabilities have been worsened and affected negatively (Whitley, 2020).
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the vulnerabilities of children with disabilities and added the challenges they face disproportionately both at home and school (ASEAN, 2020). Guidelines and containment measures implemented by various governments to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected children with disabilities in unique ways both positively and negatively (Mikaela & Barabareschi, 2020). The measures have to some extent discriminated against children and persons with disabilities. For instance, the water points installed in most places require that one has to use their feet or hand to access water and soap. In case of those children with physical impairments, this may be a challenge to them. In addition to the anomaly, many of the water points are too high to be accessed by the majority of persons with physical impairments. In many cases, there are no instructions on how to access the facilities available.
The various categories of children with disabilities affected includes children with hearing loss, children with visual impairments, children with mental difficulties, children with mobility problems, children with self-care problems among others (KNBS, 2009). According to Kilimkina (2020), these categories of children with disabilities are not able to access educational services, healthcare services, information and social facilities in this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidelines and the containment measures obtaining the scenario facing children with disabilities include closure of schools, keeping safe at home, banning of social gatherings/crowds, social/physical distancing, wearing of masks/gloves, curfews, washing hands among others (MOH, 2020). As a result of the measures introduced by various governments, children with disabilities face several challenges from lack of knowledge on what is going on to the understanding of the benefits.
2.0 CLOSURE OF LEARNING INSTITUTIONS
One of the drastic and bold steps the governments of the world took to arrest the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic among school children was the closure of schools and all other learning institutions (Whitley, 2020). According to the author, in Canada, 750,000 students who were receiving special education from elementary grades to senior secondary grades were out of school when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. In United States of America, almost 6.7 million students in public schools in 45 states were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Kilimkina, 2020). All over the world in 180 countries about 1.5 billion students were sent home and 80% of them were children with disabilities (McClain, 2020). In Southern and Eastern Africa about 127 million students are out of school while in Kenya there are about 18 million students out of school of which 1 million children are those with disabilities (UNICEF,2020& KNBS, 2009).
School closures have impacted negatively on continuity of learning which has caused children with disabilities to lack protective environments, non-availability of essential basic needs and other important services including learning itself (Welsh,2020). Welsh (2020) suggested that children with disabilities have missed out on basic needs and services such as feeding programs, social support and lack of access to assistive aids. Due to the absence of the most important necessities, children with disabilities face increased protection risks (Abrams, 2020). These children are abused, neglected and exploited unnecessarily. Abrams further suggested, that has led children with disabilities to be stressed, depressed and likely to have the mental illness or psychological problems Whitley (2020) argued that parents of children with disabilities have found it hard to juggle between work, financial, children care and teaching them at home. In most cases, parents are not specially trained to teach their own children with disabilities. This is also the case with regular teachers who must be trained further to teach children with disabilities. Kilimkina (2020) contended that children with disabilities are missing out on valuable structures at school including boarding facilities, playgrounds, protective environments, training and a sense of community. Many of the children especially with mental difficulties are bound to forget what they have learnt in many years in a short while if they are not exposed to the skills daily or regularly. Similarly, Ramirez (2020) further suggested that school closure means disruptions in learning as well as to proper nutrition, safe water supply, psychosocial support and health care services.
2.1 E-LEARNING PLATFORMS
According to McClain (2020), when schools and other learning institutions were closed due to previous Ebola emergencies in West African countries, families with children with disabilities were provided with remote learning gadgets. The gadgets included radios, tablets, computers and online portals. Also, there was the provision of online virtual lessons, television and radio lessons. In United States of America and other developed countries, remote learning and teaching has been recommended during this difficult times of the COVID- 19 pandemic. In other words during this closure of school period, the best education solution in those developed countries is the employment of the distance education method using online teaching and learning (Gavin, 2020).
However, as much as this mode has been hailed as a solution, research has shown that there are inherent challenges children with disabilities face when using the remote learning model (Webo,2020 &Whitley, 2020). Different categories of Children with disabilities use different communication strategies which might not be usable during online teaching and learning which include children with hearing impairments, visual impairments among others (KNBS, 2009). Materials used on online teaching are not in Braille and in sign language (Kilimkina, 2020). In addition, many children with disabilities come from poor backgrounds and whose parents cannot afford the technological gadgets required such as smartphones, laptops, tablets, television, radios among others (Phoenix, 2020). Further, the author noted that internet connectivity is poor in most countries and lack of broadband penetration and that some of the online gadgets are not specially designed for various categories of children with disabilities. Similarly parents and teachers are not trained on online teaching and the use of technological equipment involved.
3.0 SOCIAL/PHYSICAL DISTANCING/KEEPING AT HOME SAFE.
Previous research carried out on psychological impact of mass trauma have shown that there is usually heightened intensity of feelings of loneliness and isolation which results into mental illness among children with disabilities (Goldman &Galileo, 2014).According to this author, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause the mass trauma that can lead to heightened feelings of loneliness and isolation. Due to this feelings of loneliness and isolation due to social/physical distancing and keeping at home safe, children with disabilities are likely to be anxious, stressed, depressed and socially maladjusted(Phoenix, 2020). According to Ferget et al (2020), quarantine related mental problems include depressions, low morale, irritability, insomnia, anger and emotional exhaustion. Further, Horesh et al (2020) suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic involves numerous characteristics seen in mass traumatic events and thus there will be an increase in post-traumatic stress (PTTSS) during and after the pandemic.
In this study social/physical distancing is synonymous with keeping at home safe and implies that people in meetings/gatherings must sit away 1.5meter away or not interacting with friends and relatives (MOH, 2020). Due to social/physical distancing and or keeping at home safe, children with disabilities are likely to miss out on very important services provided by personal assistants such as the pushing of the wheel chairs, interpretation, guiding those children with visual impairments around the environment, transcribing among others (Abrams, 2020). Additionally, children with visual impairments feel surfaces and use smell as part of learning and others need the help of physical assistants to address their self-care issues and feeding. These activities make them vulnerable to the corona virus. Other children who are at risk are the deaf-blind who communicate with hand over hand method throughout and cannot therefore avoid close contact with all people around them.
As postulated by Goldman and Galileo (2014), children with disabilities are at increased risk of infection and other complications arising from the underlying health conditions and socio-economic status and also poor access to health care. The author further noted that social/physical distancing and or keeping home safe results into children with disabilities not accessing caregivers and social networks thus medical, social and rehabilitation services are disrupted. Children with disabilities rely on services of personal assistants for their daily survival. Introduction of this measure to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant serious implications on the lives of children with disabilities (Phoenix, 2020). Children with disabilities are likely not to get adequate health assistance, loss of support mechanism and psychological wellbeing (distress, anxiety, negative thoughts among others) (Phoenix, 2020). Many children with mental and speech disorders cannot adequately express how they feel when they are unwell therefore disadvantaged and at risk. Further in times of community isolation, the safety, health, independence and autonomy of children with disabilities is curtailed.
4.0 OPPORTUNITIES DUE TO THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC
The emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic apparently has caused different stakeholders to start planning about the education of children with disabilities in inclusive settings (McClain, 2020). This is an opportunity the COVID-19 pandemic presented to children with disabilities despite the very many challenges. Up to and until now inclusive policies in place have not been implemented to the letter by various governments including the Kenyan one (UNICEF, 2020).
In previous emergencies in West African countries like Sierra Leon, the strategies and educational solutions that were used during quarantine period included the use of Radios and Televisions that were provided by the governments for online learning and virtual lessons (educatiocannotwait.org). These platforms were enhanced with accessibility features, continuity of instructions for all learners including those with disabilities. This was an opportunity for children with disabilities which had not been there before the emergency of the disease and this will equally be an opportunity due to the COVID-19 pandemic all over the world and especially in developing countries (UNICEF, 2020). Whereas most households with children with disabilities might have low internet and broad band penetration and 45% of children with disabilities globally do not have internet, the provision of quality, effective, low cost, low tech and no tech solutions, the delivery of paper documents that take into account consideration for safe handling and distribution should boost the inclusion of learners with disabilities in learning (UNESCO, 2020 ).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic governments of the world are ensuring that no child is being left behind by introducing distance learning which is accessible, teachers are being trained on online teaching and caregivers are being supported to make education disability friendly (educationcannotwait.org ). Other provisions that can be boosted due to the COVID-19 includes inclusive wash, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support for children with disabilities and their families (Phoenix, 2020). In addition, more resources towards more inclusive health, social and education services should be availed (McClain, 2020). Even with multiple mental health threats (reorganization of family life, massive stress, fear of death of relatives, economic crisis, limited access to health and lack of social stabilizers, teaching at school and sport activities), the current crisis could present opportunities to children with disabilities in inclusive settings (https://www.who.int/publications-detail/disability-considerations-during-covidoutbreak ).
The absence of work related appointments, meetings and need to meet friends can bring rest and relaxation into families and this can make children with disabilities feel at home unlike previously when they were damped at school and left there for teachers and support staff care (Ferget et al, 2020 ). The author further asserted that a number of external stressors disappear, mastering the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic may strengthen the sense of community and cohesion among family members. In addition, children who are troubled at school due to bullying or other stress may experience a situation of home versus school as relieving. Similarly, mastering current challenges of the COVID-19 crisis could contribute to personal growth and development which is an experience of psychological growth as compared with the previous level of functioning and or attitudes towards life. Thus successful management of stress and transition can lead to personal growth and in turn reinforces the sense of competence and becomes a protective factor for coping with future stress.
- Quote paper
- Andrew Kuya Makachia (Author), 2020, Post Covid-19 Period in inclusive Settings in Kenya. Challenges for Children with Disabilities, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/937082