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Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Primary Education (Kenya)

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities in Primary Education (Kenya)
by Charles Makori Omoke

Charles Makori Omoke is a senior lecturer at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Kenya. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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DOI: 10.5040/9781474209496.0013

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    Felix Maringe (Regional Editor), Maria Teresa Tatto (Editor in Chief) and Ian Menter (Editor in Chief)
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Research on special education needs and disabilities

In Kenya, National Policy supports inclusive education consistent with the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). However, educating children with special educational needs (SEN) is seen as requiring expertise and specialist resources not available among regular staff and schools, leading to exclusion of children with SEN from regular schooling and society.

Approximately 1.7 million people in Kenya live with a disability, and the National Survey for Persons with Disabilities (Government of Kenya 2008) indicated that only 39 percent of this population were enrolled in mainstream primary schools and only 9 percent were enrolled in mainstream high schools. A school that does not value diversity promotes the cycle of poverty amongst people with disabilities. A survey conducted by the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development (2008) found that the overall rate of disability in Kenya is 4.6 percent. Within this, 1.6 percent have physical disabilities while 1.4 percent have visual impairments. The survey also revealed that among children below 14 years of age, 0.5 percent have hearing impairments, 0.2 percent speech difficulties, 0.4 percent visual impairments, 0.1 percent mental challenges, 0.6 percent physical disabilities, and 0.3 percent have self-care deficits. Among young people of ages 15 to 24 years, 0.4 percent have hearing impairments, 0.2 percent speech impairments, 1.1 percent visual impairments, 0.2 percent mental challenges, 1.1 percent physical disabilities, and 0.3 percent have self-care problems.

Programs and policies

In Kenya, special needs education is offered in special schools, integrated units, and inclusive settings in regular schools. However, the majority of children with disabilities are not enrolled in schools. The Ministry of Education (MOE) reported that in 1999, only 22,000 learners with SEN enrolled in schools, with the number increasing to 26,885 in 2003 and 45,000 in 2008 (MOE 2009). This compares unfavorably with their nondisabled peers since the total population of pupils in 2008 was 8,563,821. Njoka et al. (2011) noted that despite the reintroduction of free primary education (FPE) in 2003, about 1 million school-age children were still not enrolled in school and this number includes children with SEN. According to Korir and Mukuria (2007), only 2 percent of individuals with disabilities receive any form of special education in Kenya. According to the draft education policy in Kenya (2012), the enrollment of learners in special institutions and units stood at 102,749 students, of which 21,050 are in special schools and 81,649 are in integrated special units at both primary and secondary schools. This enrollment figure represents only about one-third of the learners with special needs.


Kenya has domestic international legal provisions for the care, education, and protection of children with special needs. They include: Article 53 (1) (b) of the constitution of Kenya (2010), which states that every child has the right to free and compulsory education, and (c) to basic nutrition, shelter, and healthcare; Article 54 (1) of the constitution of Kenya (2010) provides for the rights of persons with disabilities. Specifically, Article 54 (1) (a) requires that people with disabilities be treated with dignity and respect, (b) requires that persons with disabilities should have access to educational institutions and facilities that are integrated into the society to the extent compatible with the interests of the person, (c) requires that reasonable access should be made available to all places, (d) encourages the usage of sign language, braille, or other appropriate means of communication, and (e) requires that access to materials and devices to overcome constraints arising from the person’s disability should be made available; Article 18 (1) of the Persons with Disability Act (2003) states that no person with disability shall be denied admission to any course of study by reason only of such disability, and (2) learning institutions shall take into account the special needs of persons with disabilities in respect to the entry requirements, pass mark, curriculum, examinations, auxiliary services, use of school facilities, class schedules, physical education requirements, and other similar considerations; finally, Article 9 of the Children’s Act (2001) states that a disabled child shall have the right to be treated with dignity and to be accorded appropriate medical treatment, special care, education, and training free of charge or at a reduced cost whenever possible. The education plan 2013–2018/Education Act 2013, outlines the need to increase access, enhance retention, improve quality and relevance of education, strengthen early identification and assessment, and ensure equal opportunities in provision of education to children with disabilities.

The government of Kenya, through the Special Needs Education Policy (2009), states that the overall goal of education is to achieve education for all (EFA) by 2015 in line with global and national commitments. It places emphasis on inclusive education through regular schools for learners with special needs and disabilities as opposed to the practice of using special schools and special units attached to regular schools.

However, special schools and units are essential for learners with severe special needs and disabilities in the areas of hearing, visual, mental, and serious physical challenges (MOE 2009). Kenya vision 2030 recognizes that education and training of all Kenyans is fundamental to the success of the vision. This can be done through relevant and quality education and training.


Varied research in Kenya has identified several challenges that hinder the implementation of inclusive education. They include: lack of critical learning and teaching resources; inadequate specialist teachers; socioeconomic and cultural issues; lack of proper guidelines on inclusive education or lack of clarity in the inclusive education policy or ambiguity about the goals for inclusion and the means through which this can be achieved; and lack of appropriate tools and skills for early identification and assessment. Other challenges included inadequate physical infrastructure and teaching/learning materials, inadequate skilled manpower, and inappropriate placement of children with special needs and disabilities (Bii and Taylor 2013; Elewek and Rhoda 2000; MOE 2009; Mwangi and Orodho 2014; Omoke 2013).


The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) is a state corporation, mandated to formulate and implement policies that are geared toward mainstreaming persons with disabilities into the national economy. It also seeks to create an enabling environment in which persons with disabilities can operate effectively and efficiently

The council gets funding from the national government that it uses to fund and facilitate some academic programs for learners with special needs in education. The council derives its mandate from the Persons with Disability Act 2003, which established the council. The role and services of the council include:

  • Formulating and developing measures and policies designed to achieve equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

  • To formulate and develop measures and policies designed to:

    • Achieve equal opportunities for persons with disabilities by ensuring to the maximum extent possible that they obtain education and employment and participate fully in sporting, recreational, and cultural activities and are afforded full access to community and social services.

    • Coordinate services provided in Kenya for the welfare and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities and to implement programs for vocational guidance and counseling.

  • To make provision for assistance to students with disabilities in the form of scholarships, loan programs, fee subsidies, and other similar forms of assistance in both public and private institutions.

Teachers and teaching

There are various institutions of higher learning that offer training for primary school special needs teachers in Kenya.

The Kenya Institute of Education is the main body in charge of training special needs teachers in Kenya. The teachers from the institute form the majority of the P1 holders who go on to train for a diploma in special needs education and are then deployed to special primary schools for learners with special needs.

Different courses are undertaken by the students depending on the area or category that they may want to work in. Various universities also offer training to special needs teachers. The student-teachers are trained in two teaching subjects, plus their skills are developed in areas such as psychology, behavior management, and guiding and counselling.

School personnel

For more than fifty years paraprofessionals have provided essential support for students with disabilities. Traditionally, such support was primarily in the form of clerical and one-to-one student assistance. Today’s paraprofessionals—who number upwards of 250,000 nationwide—play an increasingly prominent role in the instruction of students with disabilities. To support paraprofessionals in fulfilling the responsibilities of their expanded roles, education agencies must understand the contexts in which paraprofessionals work and use that information to provide them with appropriate training and supervision.

Nationwide, the majority of special education paraprofessionals spend at least 10 percent of their time on each of the following activities:

  • providing instructional support in small groups;

  • monitoring hallways, study hall, etc.;

  • providing one-to-one instruction;

  • meeting with teachers;

  • modifying materials;

  • collecting data on students;

  • implementing behavior management plans; and

  • providing personal care. (Patterson 2006)

However, in Kenya, very few primary schools for learners with special disabilities have these provisions due to budgetary constraints.

Disabled persons in Kenya, especially children, face many problems because of their special needs. Many of them live in hostile environments, are disempowered and marginalized, have no opportunity for advancement, and remain voiceless as a result of inbuilt social, cultural, and economic prejudices, violence, and abuse. Their rights are violated since existing legislation suffers slow implementation. The Ministry of Education faces a number of challenges in its effort to address barriers to education for children with special needs including issues relating to access, equity, quality, relevance, attitude, stigma. discrimination, culture/taboos, skills, physical environment, physical facilities, and poverty.

Further reading and online resources

African Charter on the Rights of the Child. 1990. Addis Ababa: The African Union Commission. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://au.int/en/treaties/african-charter-rights-and-welfare-child.

ERIC. 1994. “The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. Adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality (Salamanca, Spain, June 7–10, 1994).” Accessed October 29, 2018. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED377665.

Ministry of Education and Science, Madrid, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 1994a. The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education . Paris: UNESCO. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED377665.pdf.

Ministry of Education and Science, Madrid, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 1994b. World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality . Paris: UNESCO. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001107/110753eo.pdf .

National Council for Persons With Disabilities (NCPWD). n.d. “Functions of NCPWD.” Accessed October 29, 2018. https://ncpwd.wordpress.com/aboutncpwd/functions-of-ncpwd/ .

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). n.d. “African Charter on the Rights of the Child.” Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.unicef.org/esaro/African_Charter_articles_in_full.pdf .

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). n.d. “How We Protect Children's Rights With the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 1996. A Simplified Version of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child . Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.unicef.org.au/Upload/UNICEF/Media/Our%20work/childfriendlycrc.pdf.

United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). 1996–2018. “Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CRC.aspx.

Warnock, M. 1978. The Warnock Report, Special Educational Needs: Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People . London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Winzer, M. A. 1993. The History of Special Education: From Isolation to Integration . Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.


Basic Education Act. 2013. Government of Kenya. Nairobi: Government Printer.

Bii, C. and L. Talylor. 2013. Inclusive Education in Kenya; Assessment Report-Kenya/Somalia . Nairobi: Handicap International.

Children’s Act. 2001. Government of Kenya. Nairobi: Government Printers.

Constitution of Kenya. 2010. Government of Kenya. Nairobi: Government Printer.

Disability Act. 2003. Government of Kenya. Nairobi: Government Printers.

Eleweke, C. J. and M. Rodha. 2000. “The Challenges of Enhancing Inclusive Education in Developing Countries .” International Journal of Inclusive Education 6: 113–126 .

Florian, L. 2008. “Special or Inclusive Education: Future Trends . British journal of special education 35 (4): 202–208 .

Government of Kenya. 2008. Disability Rates in Kenya . Nairobi: Government Printers.

Government of Kenya. 2009. The National Special Needs Education Policy Framework . Nairobi: Ministry of Education (MOE).

Korir, J., G. Mukuria, and B. Andea. 2007. “Educating Children with Emotional and/or Emotional Disabilities in Kenya. A Rght or a Privilege? .” Journal of International Special Needs Education 10: 49–57 .

Ministry of Education. 2009. The National Special Needs Education Policy Framework . Nairobi: Government Printers.

Mwangi, E. M., and J. A. Orodho. 2014. “Challenges Facing Implementation of Inclusive Education in Public Primary Schools in Nyeri County, Kenya .” Journal of Education and Practice 5 (16): 118–125 .

Njoka, E., A. Riechi, C. Obero, W. Kemunto, and D. Muraya. 2011. Towards Inclusive and Equitable Basic Education System: Kenya’s Experience . Addis Ababa: OAU.

Omoke, C. M. 2013. “The Notions of ‘special’ and ‘expert’ and their Contribution to Issues of Quality and Equity for the Education of Children with SEN: An Experience from Rural Kenya .” Journal of Special Needs and Disabilities Studies 1 (2): 111–128 .

Patterson, B. K. 2006. “Roles and Responsibilities of Paraprofessionals: In their Own Words .” Teaching Exceptional Children 2 (5 ).

Phyllis, J. 2005. “Teachers Views on their Pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties .” European Journal of Special Needs Education 20 (4): 375–385 .

Powell, J. J. W. 2009. “To Segregate or to Separate?Special Education Expansion and Divergence in the United States and Germany .” Comparative Education Review 53 (2): 161–187 .

Rouse, M. 2008. “Developing Inclusive Practice: A Role for Teachers and Teacher Education? .” Education in the North 16: 6–11 .

United Nations (UN). 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Paris: United Nations.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 1994. The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education . Salamanca: Paper presented at the World Conference on Special Needs Education.

Winzer, M. and K. Mazurek. 2005. “Current Reforma in Special Education: Delusion or Solution? .” In International Handbook on Globalisation, Education and Policy Research, Global Pedagogies and Policies , edited by J. Zajda, 643–658. Springer: Dordrecht .

Special educational arrangements that are in place for children with disabilities.

Education where all learners attend regular schools in age-appropriate classes and are supported to learn, contribute, and participate in all aspects of the life of the school. The school is expected to change to accommodate learners with special needs.