A Visit to Mwanga Primary School for the Deaf

A Visit to Mwanga Primary School for the Deaf


Scholars agree that every human being has the right to get quality and equitable basic education in spite of one’s physical, intellectual, emotional, social and linguistic or any other conditions. Children with special needs, however, experience difficulties to attain their basic education that is associated with an unsupportive learning environment that affects their social, psychological and academic spheres as well as their academic performances at school. Many school-age children with special needs are not enrolled in schools because their conditions do not suit with facilities available for them to live and study comfortably in schools.

Like other nations, Tanzania views education as the key to providing the young with opportunities to achieve their full potential in terms of acquiring the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes needed for them to grow and develop and to enter adulthood and the workforce (United Republic of Tanzania [URT], 2000). As noted by the government, education is vital to “improving health; increasing productivity of the poor; creating competitive economies; enhancing quality of life in society; enlightening and empowering individuals; practicing good governance; and addressing problems such as poverty and conflict” (URT, 2000, pp. 5–6).

The constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania prohibits all forms of discrimination and recognizes human rights including the rights of people with disabilities (EFA National Review Report, 2015). The Tanzanian National Education Act was passed in 1978, making education compulsory for all children. Article 56 of the Act stipulates that every Tanzanian is entitled to receive education according to his or her ability (URT, 1978). Tanzania also signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN Conversion on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (2006) resulting in the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2010, the Standard Rule on Equalization of Opportunities for People with Disabilities (1993), and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action (1994).

Negative attitude towards people with hearing impairment and other learners with special needs, in general, has been persisting all over the world. According to the Holy Bible, during the pre-Christian era (2000, BC), the handicapped were neglected and mistreated. For instance, the Jews and Greeks regarded children with hearing impairment and other disabilities as idiots who could not think and could not be allowed to inherit property. The Jews could gather all the physically handicapped and the hearing impaired people in society and banish them to a place where they would starve to death or be eaten by wild animals (Leviticus 21: 17 – 23). In many African cultures, handicapped children were not considered or expected to be parents or active family members, either, they were regarded as a burden, or shame, to be feared.

Local stories in Tanzania tell that some tribes were killing the deaf children immediately after birth. Traditional midwives usually did the killing, claiming that, it was not God’s wish for such children to survive. It was also believed to be a taboo to have a handicapped child in the family. Such a problem was normally solved by elimination, which involved killing the children (Mwaluka, 1965; Mbiti, 1970; and Anderson, 1973).

In contrast to the above, the same Bible in Mark 7:31-37 says that Jesus felt pity for the disabled. He performed miracles on the deaf, thus giving them respect in society. It says “Christ came for the deaf to hear and the dumb/mute to speak”. This brought the beginning of positive attitudes towards people with hearing impairment and those with disabilities in general. It is from there that the ELCT saw the need for establishing schools for pupils with disabilities; and Mwanga School for the deaf be a good example. ELCT believes that Jesus Christ wants his Church to have open doors, welcoming all people to worship. The Church emphasizes people with disabilities to be connected to the Body of Christ through education and worship because they have gifts and talents to share with others.


One of the leading reasons is obvious, so they can become productive members of society. Society often looks down on the disabled population and considers them to be “freeloaders”. However, many can function in the workforce alongside their able-bodied peers, they just lack the opportunity.

In an article published by the World Bank (2007) addressing the Millennium Development Goals, Former Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, was quoted as saying,

“People with disabilities are also people with extraordinary talent. Yet they are too often forgotten. When people with disabilities are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty—and people living in conditions of poverty are more likely to develop disabilities. As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities that they deserve. I’m proud of the work we have done so far to create opportunities for disabled people to contribute fully to their communities. But we cannot achieve these goals alone. We must work closely with our development partners to remove the barriers that exclude disabled people and ensure equality of opportunity for every member of society”

This is especially true with the Deaf population. Many can learn alongside their typically developing hearing peers. They simply need language and culture modification to create a learning environment that enables them to complete access to learning. This is asking for no more than what is given to their hearing peers, just accessibility to the education and information.


The Christian concept of education is based on the wholeness of man in unity with God. It is concerned with the development of powers of mind, body and soul put on a person by God. So that educated people become true servants of God and society. The Bible says; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” Prov.1:7. Through this scripture, the question of faith and learning is put together and we move away from the tendency of compartmentalization of disciplines. Jesus Christ is the truth in all areas of human lives.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania has played a very big part in education by establishing Schools, Colleges, Universities and other Education institutions spread all over the country. Access of Education to children with disabilities is one of the Church’s missions and evangelism work to help those who do not have access to education due to their disabilities. The Church has nine primary schools and one secondary school special for children with disabilities. Mwanga is among these nine primary schools.

Mwanga School for the deaf is a common work school run by the ELCT in collaboration with the Government of Tanzania. The school was established in 1981 to serve the children with hearing impairments. The school accommodates children of all faiths from all regions of Tanzania. During my visit on 23rd September 2019, the school had a total number of 118 students; 56 girls and 62 boys with 14 teachers (11 full time and 3 part-time teachers) and 14 non-teaching staff. Their annual students intake is 10 students whereby students take ten years to complete their primary education (normal students take seven years). Students take two years in class/grade 1, 3 and 5; and one year for the rest grades/ classes. Each class consists of 10 or 12 pupils.


One of the biggest success stories of this school is that the school is known as one of the nation’s top schools for deaf children in Tanzania. The government of Tanzania in collaboration with the ELCT provides teachers, teaching and learning materials, food and salaries for teachers and other non-teaching staff. Students in school are not only taught academic subjects but also other vocational subjects such as tailoring, gardening, poultry farming, handicrafts, etc. Students in Mwanga deaf school were very active in learning regardless of their disability. From my visit, I came to realize that, if pupils with disabilities are effectively given a chance they will perform very well and make wonders (See the attached pictures on what these children were doing). This evidence concurs with what Rev. Martin Luther King said;

“Give us a chance and see us perform. Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don’t need a college degree to serve. You don’t need to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love”


Shortage of Well-trained Special Needs Teachers. 

Although Tanzania has made improvements in the training of special needs teachers, the shortage persists. During my visit to Mwanga School, I had observed that, among 11 teachers (Full time) in the school, only 6 teachers had a Certificate or Diploma training in special education, 5 teachers in this school lack the skills required to work with children with hearing impairment because they had trained only to work with mainstream children. In Tanzania, generally there is no formal training offered to teachers who are working with the Deaf. Learning sign language as a prerequisite for this position is not a requirement. Some of the hearing teachers in deaf schools seemed to know few signs. They used their voice while signing those signs, and the just finger-spelled the first letter of many words they did not know the signs for. This is not to say that all of the teachers or even that few in this school are not “good teachers”, they are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have in less than favorable conditions. Moreover, the number of trained teachers is not sufficient for our national needs. Tanzania has only one Teacher Training College that is preparing special education teachers. Indeed this is a serious shortcoming. However, the ELCT Northern Diocese Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU) (being the first university in Tanzania to train Special Education Teachers at a Bachelor’s degree level), The Open University of Tanzania (OUT) and University of Dodoma (UDOM) had played a greater role in bridging the gap of special needs teachers in Tanzania.

Lack of Adequate Teaching and Learning Materials Resources.

The school was faced with a lack of up-to-date teaching and learning materials like ICT facilities and textbooks that teachers can use to support students. As I have mentioned earlier that the school is managed by the ELCT in collaboration with the Government, and that the government is responsible for supplying teaching and learning materials; this has been a challenge because the government has failed to meet all requirements needed by its schools in the whole country. Likewise; because the school is not well funded by the government, and parents do not contribute school fees, there were very limited resources available to carry out the requisite assessment and intervention processes which pose a challenge to delivering quality instruction. Even though teachers strived to support children, it was difficult to do so effectively with a shortage of up-to-date teaching and learning materials. Ample financial resources are required if the school is to offer quality education to students.

Community and National Poverty

The primary barrier to achieving EFA for children with disabilities in Tanzania is the nation’s poverty. The majority of the national community lives in poverty and there are inadequate resources left for meeting the educational needs of the population. The government of Tanzania continues to perform dismally when it comes to providing materials and resources essential for teaching students with disabilities. As in other low-income countries, Tanzania relies in part on donor funds to bridge the budget gap (UNESCO, 2014). Unfortunately, most of these donor funds are conditional, unreliable, and insufficient to meet the country’s educational needs. This is true when comes to the issue of financial support and subsidy that Mwanga school was first receiving from its partners (Finland, Sweden, and German) since its establishment in 1981 to date. The partners had reduced the subsidy since 2018 and they have announced that they will end up their subsidy support by 2020. This situation caused the school to have a deficit budget for student’s food, teaching and learning materials, health and medical facilities for students and study tour and academic trips because the government which is supposed to provide these services has failed to meet the target. These subsidy cuts have had serious consequences for school academic development and students and teachers well being.

Small Room for Further Education

The other struggle is what happens to the children after primary school. There are no enough places for them to attend school for secondary education and no funding to support them if they can find a place. Records kept by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MST) show that at present there are eleven schools and 36 special education units that cater to students with hearing impairments. Besides the primary schools and units for learners with hearing impairments, eight secondary schools offered education to a few students who got the chance to go to secondary school in Tanzania. In this situation, therefore, there are a limited number of special secondary schools for the deaf and many students are forced to join normal secondary schools that do not use the sign language in teaching. This becomes the biggest challenge for deaf students in the country.

In recent years, some students with hearing impairments have been admitted to college and university. In 2012/2013 Academic year, the University of Dar es Salaam enrolled nine students with hearing disabilities. One student, who was partially deaf, joined the University in 1990, and one girl deaf student was admitted to the University in 2006. The University of Dar es Salaam had, for the first time employed a language interpreter to work with her.

Curriculum and Evaluation Procedures

Challenges posed by the curriculum continue to frustrate efforts to meet EFA goals. The relevant curriculum that meets the needs of diverse groups of learners is critical to making quality education a reality. Children with disabilities specifically with hearing or visual impairments struggle to cope with the demands made by the curriculum owing to such factors as reading difficulties and failure to comprehend information. Teachers are constrained in their ability to adapt and modify curricular content to enable students with disabilities to participate in the learning process. Tanzanian students of all abilities at every grade level are subjected to a single rigid national curriculum and pedagogy with only minor modifications by teachers. Moreover, teachers are under significant pressure from the Ministry of Education, school administrators, and education inspectors to complete the set syllabus on time. These pressures limit teachers’ flexibility and ability to modify curricular content and pedagogy to meet the needs of children with hearing impairments


It can be reasonably concluded that the greatest needs are education for more students and teacher training to improve the quality of education. There are many other needs, but working towards these two goals will be a step in the right direction.

Teacher training for working with deaf children is a necessity. Deaf education and special education have very little overlap, except for deaf children with additional disabilities. Sign language learning is a huge part of that training, if teachers cannot communicate with their students, learning on any real level cannot take place. Learning about other environmental factors such as seating arrangement or visual noise, such as cluttered walls, is also important to ensure the best environment for learning. Learning about instructional best practices is essential. For teachers of the Deaf, this includes learning about teaching literacy.

The focus of Education for All in developing countries is primarily on providing education for mainstream society. Where persons with disabilities are included, it is with the emphasis of mainstreaming and inclusion. This is what is commonly desired by persons with disabilities. They no longer want to be outcasts in society, but included in the mainstream with modifications to give them access to the same quality of education as their peers. This practice of inclusion aligns with the Salamanca Statement of 1994. This solution, however, is not appropriate for the Deaf. In a presentation at the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Mainstreaming Disability in MDG Policies, Processes, and Mechanisms: Development for All workshop in Bratislava, May 2007, one Deaf member of the Tanzania Association for the Deaf (CHAVITA), Lupi Maswanya stated:

“For the Deaf and Deaf blind, inclusive classes are not practical! They will need classrooms and special teachers with sign language skills. Their communication needs make it impossible to study in an inclusive classroom, especially for primary school. Only hard-of-hearing children can benefit from an inclusive class. The others; profound Deaf can’t cope as most can’t speak on top of not hearing it’s a waste of time and resources to have them in an inclusive classroom.” (Maswanya, p. 15)

Deaf children need to be in schools for the Deaf, taught by teachers who are trained in sign language and the education of the Deaf. It is hard to know what the best practices for Deaf education in Tanzania are. Many developed countries vary on their philosophies of best practice for teaching the Deaf. However, it is important to review current trends and research for successful strategies for teaching the Deaf. One important factor to keep in mind that separates Tanzania from developed counties is the absence or lack of access to technology. For the Deaf, this includes hearing aids, Cochlear Implants, and other listening devices such as microphones worn by the teacher. Even if technology like hearing aids were available to Tanzanians, it is doubtful that the families could afford the upkeep.


Anderson, E. (1973).  Disabled Children. London: Methuen Ltd.

Maswanya, L. (2007). Proceedings from UN Expert Group Meeting on Mainstreaming Disability in MDG Policies, Processes, and Mechanisms: Development for All ’07: Disabled People and MGD’s in Tanzania. Bratislava, Slovakia.

Mbiti, J.S. (1970). Introduction to African Religion. London: Heinemann Educational Books

Mwaluka, A. J. (1965). Utani Relationships: The Bena Vol. 1.  Dar es Salaam: University of Dar es Salaam

UNESCO (2014). EFA global monitoring report 2013- 2014. Teaching And Learning: Achieving Quality Education for All. France: UNESCO.

URT, (2000). Education in A Global Era: Challenges To Equity, Opportunities for Diversity.

World Bank & the Disability Team of Human Development Networks Social Protection Unit. (2007). Social Analysis and Disability: A Guidance Note; Incorporating Disability Inclusive Development into Bank-Supported Projects. (Social Analysis Sector Guidance Notes Series). Washington, DC. Retrieved from the World Bank website: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTSOCIALDEV/0,,contentMDK:21282149~pagePK: 64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:3177395,00.html.


This Article was written by

Ambassador Chrostowaja Gerson Mtinda, Tanzania

Ambassador Chrostowaja Gerson Mtinda, Tanzania