CHALLENGE & REALITIES OF NON-INCLUSIVENESS IN EDUCATION: NIGERIA IN FOCUS

By AdvocateNews on 03/12/2019

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High Chief Onagu TZ Ogbodo
High Chief Onagu TZ Ogbodo

By Onagu TZ Ogbodo (High Chief)

Permanent Secretary (Rtd)

 

Today December 3, 2019 is observed globally as the International Day for Persons with Disability or the World Disability Day. This article therefore is dedicated to all persons with vulnerabilities that suffer discrimination as a result of the ignorance of some members of the society that do not know that there is ability in disability, that a person is not inherently ‘disabled’ and that disability is not a feature of a person but only a health impairment.                         

 

The birth of a child is celebrated in all known human societies as every child is born into an inclusive society. The celebrations that erupt from the public announcements of such new arrivals derive from the society’s expectations from the new addition (expectedly a genius) who will contribute to advancing humanity if in the developed world or one hopefully expected not only improve his society but to liberate the family from the shackles of poverty elsewhere in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In every clime across the globe that child is celebrated with pomp and pageantry.

 

Growing up, every child savours and cherishes the unsolicited freely given adulations of love and acceptance in an ‘assumed completely’ inclusive society, even though parents play the important role of selecting children’s peers in the early or formative years thereby indirectly influencing children’s development… but it gets more intriguing with the introduction of education, whether formally, informally or non-formally. An introduction that starkly alters the child’s treasured experience of growing up, because with it (education) comes officially the introduction of the language of learning, regulated peer selection/segregation, classification and or discrimination by a gradual differentiation of one child from the other which is based on ability - a course that exposes the disadvantages of a child with impairment. Whereas that young and innocent child with impairment has not yet developed the mental capacity to comprehend the rationale for the ‘special’ way he or she is treated which potentially could lead to a ‘forced’ institutional separation later. Some of the affected children ponder internally on a lot of whys, but mainly ruminate on why some of them go to schools in the neighbourhood and others like them don’t and can’t. Still with no available answers, the affected children at this point will not relate their trauma to the identified impairments they bear or certain vulnerabilities that deter their performance of ordinary simple tasks given by their teachers and or parents. What they do not know is that actually it is a lack of capacity on the part of their parents and teachers to rise to the challenge of inclusiveness that is the proximate cause of their travails as the ‘lucky’ ones are sent to a Special School, out of sight of the society, out of sight of their nuclear families and childhood peers, often in a distant community from their homes where they meet new peers with similar challenges and are then confronted with a forceful adjustment towards self reliance at very tender ages.

 

Bear in mind that there are very few Special Schools in Nigeria which are mostly owned by the state governments, in fact on the average of 1 per state which is grossly inadequate in comparison to regular government schools that are available in most local communities, supported by regular private schools that dot all corners of the environment as if in competition with each other. There is hardly a private special school anywhere and you cannot see one without scouring, searching and asking questions from people largely unfamiliar with such enquiries. So access to schools and education by default is tilted in favour of children with abilities while those with vulnerabilities have very limited options and will have to contend with distance and separation from their families if they must get an education in a ‘Special’ School.

 

Statistics relate that 99% of children with vulnerabilities and their families do not surmount this humongous barrier and often attempt or experiment with the cost-effective integration of their children with impairments in regular neighbourhood schools that incidentally are not ready for children with impairments. This prevalent situation effectively was captured by Emeritus Prof. PAI Obanya when he chimed in on the UBE that “there has been a leaning towards ‘readying the child for the school’ with very little attention to ‘readying the school for the child” He opined that we pay much attention to the demand side of Education for All with little attention to the supply side of it. Yes, what is Education for all when most regular public schools are not ready to accommodate all children for example those that are hearing impaired who at a very early stage find it extremely difficult to communicate in the acceptable ‘learning or education’ language and continue to struggle until when they are exposed to Sign language which is taught only in a ‘Special’ School which provides them the opportunity to communicate having learnt how to talk through the medium of Signing in school but sadly when they come home on visit or holidays they don’t talk or communicate easily because their parents and family members do not know Sign language. That is the simple reason most children in Special Schools dread holiday time and often remain in the school where they feel they now belong instead of going home. Callously some wicked parents are comfortable with it as a way of avoiding stigmatization as long as their children with impairments remain out of sight of the public. But that is not right.

 

Psychologists are in agreement that language has strong biological underpinnings, with children biologically prewired to learn a language at a certain time and in a certain way. So it is right and I call for the introduction of Sign language to all children at an early stage and same for their involved parents to enable free flow of communication between children who talk and those who are not able to, in and out of the home. This will effectively initiate the dismantling of the dilemma, trauma, frustration and stress for the following affected critical stakeholders in pursuit of Education for All: 

 

The vulnerable child: who psychologically craves answers from parents and adults on many whys and also for  

 

Parents, the Religious & the larger Society: that lack the knowledge to engage the necessary resources to deal with the emergent crisis and who often implement diverse self determined strategies; some based on the medical approach, others on charity approach, philanthropy & tokenism, but their burden will be lightened by the ability of the child to now ‘talk’ by Sign language early enough i.e. to communicate and in the process participate meaningfully in determining his or her fate and welfare and even their lives when you consider how these children deal with medical personnel when sick as miscommunication often leads to medical misdiagnosis which is very dangerous.

 

This novel approach of enabling early communication for all will not only lead to dismantling the dilemma for the vulnerable child but will become a source of upliftment for the

 

Nigerian Government: that is slowly but gradually pursuing the inclusive approach through the implementation of Education for All (EFA) based on the numerous international conventions protocols it has signed into, which it also clearly domesticated in the National Policy on Education (NPE) Section 10: 96 (c) that states inter alia

 

“All necessary facilities that would ensure easy access to education shall be provided e.g. inclusive education with integration of special classes and units into ordinary/public schools under its Universal Basic Education (UBE) Scheme”.

 

However not minding the positive policy direction from our education grund nurm, attempts by parents, teachers and the government to remove the numerous barriers associated with inclusion in education remains tepid because of the weakness of stakeholders to fully embrace the expectations of the Section 10:96 (c) of the NPE (2014)… especially the inability of states to procure meaningfully deliverables from the allocated annual inclusive education grants from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).  As published by UBEC, Abuja, many states have millions of Naira of their Inclusive Education (IE) grants still un-accessed and most of them are in arrears for the past couple of years which is part of the total un-accessed N 71 Billion Matching Grants from 2005 to 2017 as at 30 June 2017.

 

Frustrated by the lousiness of state actors inability to access and utilize available Inclusive Education (IE) grants warehoused in UBEC, but still determined to get it right, the National Council on Education (NCE)/Federal Ministry of Education (FMoE)/UBEC in 2012 initiated direct grants to support private sector actors that deliver inclusive education. Is not surprising that there are no un-accessed or outstanding arrears to access left on this beat? The implication is that even the government largesse in attempting to solve the problem of providing universal basic education for all is being sacrificed on the altar of profit by some stakeholders who, like some in the society, impede the actualization of inclusiveness in education by default.  

 

The challenge today lies in removing these bottlenecks which revolve around capacity and competence which will ultimately reduce the associated barriers to IE, because reality presently mocks at our pretenses of making political appointments of jobbers to the headship of critical agencies in the education sector that should ordinarily be reserved for technocrats and then expecting results from those that have nothing to offer except they are directed or guided by an interested party.

 

Below is a modest attempt to sieve the roadblocks which we consider most critical but the list is by no means exhaustive: 

 

ATTITUDES

 

The greatest barriers to inclusion are caused by society, not by impairments of the child or learner, whether it is physical, sensory or even multi-handicapped. People’s attitudes towards noticeable differences in the development of children often result in their initiating a certain level of protectionism which finally dovetails into quasi-discrimination that morph into very serious barriers to learning. These attitudes take the form of social discrimination due to lack of awareness by family/ members of the community and also unconfirmed age-long traditional prejudices. The ignorant erroneously hold the child accountable for not measuring up to certain pre-determined standards whereas the problem emanating from the child's performance can be laid comfortably on the shortcomings of the traditional and formal education systems.

 

We make bold to state that attitudes, stereotypes and myths that stoke stigma are often caused by limited knowledge and poor education of those that stoke it.

 

The attitudes and abilities of general education teachers and para-educators in particular can be major limitations in inclusive education. Where educators have negative attitudes towards pupils/ students with special needs or have low expectations of them, the children will not likely receive a satisfactory, inclusive education.

 

FAMILY INVOLVEMENT

 

Schools and Centres of learning often are virtually distant and are not ‘really’ connected to the families and communities they serve. Most of the times they maintain only a one-way communication of the parents bringing the child to school daily and taking them home without any interaction or exchange of word with the child’s teacher. In fact, most parents offload their children at the School’s gate in the morning and pick them up there after school without any contact with the child’s teacher. In most cases there is no attempt to get a feedback and or follow up with the challenges the child faces in class, at school and or even at home as some parents rely on Drivers, House-helps and Nannies for their children’s school runs.  

 

Schools’ partnership with Carers i.e. families of children with disabilities is very essential to the effective and efficient delivery of quality inclusive education service. The challenge now is to get families of these marginalized pupils/students involved with cross-matching their children’s progress in-school and at home with their teachers, which effectively will be a subtle way of introducing Individualized Education Programme. A way forward is to push investment in adult education because the parents will have to know what they are cross-matching and such an investment will enhance the quality of life of the Carers’ (parents) which will heal rather than hurt the situation of their acceptance of an added responsibility of caring for a Special child. The school on its part has to ensure that information they provide to Carers about their children's education is in a language understandable to them and in a vocabulary that is accessible, so there is a critical need for teachers to study, learn and embrace the local language, dialect and culture of the community where their schools are located.

 

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

 

Meaningful inclusion in education derives from robust community participation.  Communities can adapt the concepts of inclusive education to their specific situations. In addition, if leaders within communities demonstrate strong support for the change process, teachers, other staff and parents in the communities are more likely to devote their time and resources into the process. Happily, the School Based Management Committee (SBMC) first introduced by UNICEF is designed to fill that gap and should be fully exploited in the interest of IE. However, it is to be noted that parents and teachers in public schools have not warmed up to the adoption of the SBMC by the National Council on Education (NCE). Their resistance seemingly is due to the ‘abrogation’ of the age-old widely accepted Parents Teachers Association (PTA) which in some states have been downgraded to a weakened Parents Association (PA) existing side by side with the SBMC. The downside effect of this newly introduced policy is palpably noticeable in the present parlous state of infrastructure development in public schools, which appears to have been left for government to address alone by the communities unlike before. Demonstrably parents, teachers and communities still believe the PTA as the true forum for their ownership of their schools and that is the vehicle they repose their confidence in, in providing the much sought after funding support. Maybe a re-introduction of a modified PTA alongside Board of Governors in public schools could rekindle the fire of ownership and support that is waning presently and provide the needed parents’ /teachers’ and community /school interface that will get the much needed all round Education for All children.

 

It is also important that the community, parents and teachers should always invoke and apply Section 10: 96 (b) of the NPE that states that “The education of children with special needs shall be free at all levels”. Therefore, the communities and the school authorities should hold their various local and state governments accountable to bring the dictates of the policy especially 96 (d) into fruition by ensuring its appropriation in their annual budgets both for their states and local governments and to ensure that they set up Inclusive Education Committees at the two levels to champion education for all. 

 

PHYSICAL BARRIERS & ACCESSIBILITY

 

The vast majority of our Schools or Centres of learning from kindergarten to universities are physically inaccessible to many learners, especially to those who have physical disabilities who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids and need the use of elevators, ramps and paved pathways to get into and to move around school buildings and environment. Most of our public schools are not equipped to respond to children with special mobility needs, and the family, community and the Religious do not provide the required local backing or logistics and I ask why can’t they and also why can’t SBMCs, Parents, Teachers, Chairmen of LGAs, Commissioners, Board Chairmen, Councilors, Traditional Rulers, Town Union Presidents, the Clergy, Politicians etc do the needful in this regards by removing the many subsisting environmental barriers in their local schools which include doors, passageways, stairs and ramps and recreational areas. This is most necessary because “The major problem identified by many a challenged student is physically getting into the classroom, school or other education service centres like Libraries, Internet Cafés etc unaided” This personal social responsibility become necessary where physical factors pose barriers to learning and participation, simple ramps and internal classroom arrangements can easily help the situation and this will not cost much. Furthermore, improvements in the physical environment of the Schools’ or Centres of learning, such as the design of the building, the availability of water, electricity and toilet/sewerage facilities will enable all pupils/students to participate in the range of learning activities in and out of the classroom. When it benefits all pupils /students, then the concept of inclusion which is based on that “students with disabilities should not be segregated, but should be included in a least restrictive environment with their typically developing peers” can be said to have succeeded.

 

ACCESSIBILITY

 

Accessibility can go beyond passageways, stairs, and ramps to recreational areas, paved pathways, and door handles. It can also be accommodated in communications and ease of daily engagements. Do we have Signages or directional signs in public places that could improve access? Do we have a policy that reserves spaces close to Entry & Exits of public buildings or places for people with Disabilities? Yes, Disability parking is noticeable at ShopRite and Spar Shopping Malls but interestingly it is provided for just one vehicular space only and the location of one or at best two Ramps in the Malls are not easily identifiable. Embarrassingly Disability Parking Spaces are not provided at most Government Houses, State Houses of Assembly, State Secretariats, Local Government Headquarters, Banks, Churches, Mosques, Police Stations, Markets, Motor Parks, Traditional Rulers Palaces, Towns’ Civic Centres and in our Homes – the Mansions we build. We sure can do better.

 

Still on Accessibility, in an emergency, do first responders know that their ethical duties mandate them to rescue people with vulnerabilities first before others who can help themselves? Also in a traditional classroom situation, a student with cerebral palsy, for instance, may not have the ability to grasp and turn a traditional doorknob, so a student who can should be made to sit closer to the door. Also a child with Albinism needs to sit nearer the Chalkboard and off the window to prevent intrusive glare. These two examples go beyond physical presence in the classroom or elsewhere and goes on to highlight accessibility in the classrooms which an IE compliant teacher should address in order to meet a pupil’s individual need.

 

CURRICULUM &  MODIFICATIONS IN TEACHING METHODOLOGY

 

The Curriculum is often unable to meet the needs of a wide range of different learners because in many contexts, it is centrally designed and therefore could be said to be rigid. Some of its contents might be very distant to the reality in which the pupils and students that it should affect live, and therefore it can become inaccessible and rigid. Rigid or not, it must have to facilitate inclusive education just as the classroom environment should as earlier mentioned. Therefore Regular teachers or General educators must be willing to make modifications and accommodations in both teaching methods and classrooms to get the job done. “Research has demonstrated that there is nothing more important to improving outcomes for pupils/students with disabilities and others who struggle in school than improving the practice of their teachers.” So, teachers should experiment and be flexible in their approach to how pupils/students learn, identifying and emphasizing on what plays to the strength of the pupil/student, for example written work should be limited if a pupil/student cannot write and the teacher could still accomplish the same or similar learning objective through a different method.

 

DEARTH OF RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT (R&D)

 

R & D enables new discoveries in technology on how to make life simpler, to do more with less; to achieve more expending less energy and using fewer materials. It is good to remind ourselves that inventions like the Lift, Escalator, Remote Control, Automatic Vehicles and now Driverless Cars, Trucks and Trains were not invented to assist the mobility impaired but to improve productivity by reducing time/materials, thereby improving quality of life. However, this was achieved on an agreement on inclusiveness by inventors which led to the adoption of Universal Designs (UD) in most technology inventions that make life easy which we depend on today, be it Cars, Phone Sets, Laptops, Bath tubs, Toilet seats, Doors etc, so you do not have to re-learn what you are used to already as it will be very problematic for a formerly sighted person that becomes visually impaired to adjust to gadgets that are not in tandem with UD. It is to maintain the universality in the application of already known skills in the personal operation of say Doors, Chairs, Tables, Cutleries, Toilet Seats etc.

 

God led the way when He applied the principle of a lookalike UD in His creation of human beings whether Caucasian, Mongoloid, Negroid or Australoid, all have one head with two eyes, two ears, two hands, two legs, one nose and a mouth for both genders.

 

SLOW PACE OF TRAININGS WITHIN THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

 

To achieve changes within the education system towards inclusion, those within the system must first understand and support the concept of IE because the development of an inclusive education system requires training and re-training of all education personnel to improve their practices in the classrooms and in the application of EFA principles in mainstream education administration. Education Managers from State Ministries of Education (SMoEs), Local Government Education Authorities (LGEAs), CSOs, NGOs, FBOs etc need to be introduced and constantly re-introduced to the principles of inclusion as enshrined in the National Policy on Inclusive Education with its attendant implications for the different levels of education.

 

However, only International Development Partners in concert with a few NGOs have been proactive in this regards, led by the FMoE but SMoEs and LGEAs can be said to be missing in action and should buckle up because the ultimate beneficiaries –children with vulnerabilities are located in families, in communities in the various local governments in the 36 states and the FCT; so pushing responsibility to federal in the context of getting it done is abstract, so, families, communities, state & local governments should accept and take full ownership of implementing inclusiveness by providing not only access to education but access to every other life sustaining facility, just like Lagos State (under former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode) did not wait for the federal government to serve its citizens with vulnerabilities. It remodeled public conveniences at many Bus Stations to give easy and unaided access to physically challenged Lagosians to use the public toilets with the dignity of their privacy fully protected. This is one Good move that should be emulated and replicated by other states and local governments in their schools and in all public buildings starting with their Government Houses and Local Government Headquarters Offices and Guest Houses.

 

LACK OF IE TEACHERS & LEARNING MATERIALS 

 

The abilities and attitudes of teachers can become major limitations for inclusive education in the absence of instructional materials to drive home the new IE concepts they teach. Capacity and competence of a teaching staff is often not adequate if teachers are not supported with appropriate inclusive teaching /learning materials that may provoke comprehension and retain experiences for early childhood learning.

 

LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION

 

Teaching and learning often takes place through an official language which is not the first language of some learners, in fact, this applies to all learners in Nigeria who often are started in their local language vernacular. Imagine the challenge for you in learning a second language as an adult or when above school age. Second languages like Sign Language/Braille for students with hearing or visual impairments places such learners at a disadvantage and it often leads to significant linguistic difficulties which contribute to learning breakdown. Second language learners are particularly subject to low expectations and discrimination and this will be same for those learning Sign Language as a second language as it is usually not introduced at the appropriate early time to those with hearing impairments and not until they are admitted to the ‘scarce’ Special Schools. Those with hearing impairments not admitted to Special Schools at all, end up without getting any opportunity to learn how to communicate and by default remain sentenced to being ‘deaf and dumb’ for life as the Sign language is actually a liberation for those adjudged deaf and dumb.

 

COOPERATION & SYNERGY

 

The lack of communication among administrators, teachers, specialists, staff, parents, and students is one other major barrier to inclusion in education. Open communication and coordinated planning between regular or general education teachers and special education specialists are essential for inclusion to succeed. 

 

Special Education specialists in teaching service will need to step out of their closets to collaborate with general education teachers, parents and students to create well-constructed individualized plans, to identify and implement modifications, create accommodations, and to draft specific goals for the affected individual students.

 

It is very sad to observe that most Special Education specialists hide their background training and often influence their postings to less tasking assignments within the schools’ teaching system. Also administrators and education managers that should know better have been found to be complicit because they neglect and refuse to rely on the available employment data of the teachers in effecting teacher postings and transfers. This embarrassing attitude is proximately due to stigma as they want to avoid the extra task of teaching children with impairments even when they are trained for it and are better equipped than the general education teachers.

 

FUNDING

 

Funding is another major constraint to the practice of inclusion. Shortage of resources – lack of schools or inadequate facilities, shortage of qualified teachers and para-teaching staff, lack of learning materials and absence of support are all fund-related. Teaching students with disabilities in general education classrooms takes specialists and additional staff to support the students’ needs. Support staffs (Signers, Caregivers, Braille Readers, Speech Therapists and Audiologists etc) are currently unavailable in the system and yet we constantly talk about graduate unemployment whereas graduates of the above listed courses that are needed to be employed in the schools’ system roam the streets swelling the unemployment data while estimates for the employment of Signers, Caregivers, Braille Readers, Speech Therapists and Audiologists etc are not provided for in the annual budgets of the FMoE, UBEC, SMoEs and LGEAs. And most saddening is that patronage for these critical professional courses are on the decline in our public and private Universities and Colleges of Education which remotely can also be rightfully attributed to stigma.

 

SECURITY VOTES & SECURITY OF LIVES

 

In crises situations, many of which we have witnessed in this country, governments (federal, state and local) are very prompt to respond to ‘securing’ the lives of people through the availability of funds from Security Votes. Funds, humongous sums are availed to other line MDAs  including NEMA, SEMA, Army, Police and Civil Defence that cater to the welfare of the displaced people in their Camps as a first line charge.

 

However, there is little support to the education of the displaced children and adults in these Internally Displaced Peoples Camps who have stopped schooling as a result of the displacement. I therefore move “that an education component should be introduced in the application matrix of the Security Votes of political office holders in disaster continuity planning”. This call is made with the proliferation of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) Camps across the country in perspective. An education component for displaced people especially children in the Camps is necessary, so the three tiers of government (federal, state & local) should take schools to the IDP Camps in their states and local government areas. So as NEMA and SEMA pay Soldiers and Policemen hazard /offshore allowances to provide and maintain security in these camps, they should also pay hazard /offshore allowances to Teachers and Lecturers to provide education lessons for displaced pupils, students and undergraduates in these camps too.. If this component is added which is not difficult anywhere, children (pupils and students) and undergraduates will not lag behind in their academics for being displaced and Education for All will be truly accomplished. 

 

POLICIES AS BARRIERS

 

Policy makers who do not understand or accept the concept of inclusive education are a barrier to the implementation of inclusive policies. Of course there are many of them who pretend and ignore the implementation of IE policies as it affects the welfare of children under their duty of care. Some of these policy makers mostly in other MDAs (not education) assume, insinuate and even declare that some children are ‘uneducable' regarding those with severe intellectual or learning disabilities. Even when they are aware that they are mandated to carry out education related activities,  they still prefer to rely on their MDAs ‘out dated’ policies, mandates and programmes on health, gender, social welfare, poverty alleviation, labour etc that predated EFA to justify their complacency. Many of these non-education policies operational in other ancillary MDAs that cater for the welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable children need to be reviewed in the light of contemporary EFA demands. This has become necessary because the education of some marginalized groups of learners statutorily falls under the responsibility of another authority outside the Federal and State Ministries of Education especially the federal Ministries of Health, Labour, Women Affairs and Social Development and the States Ministries of Gender Affairs (SMoGA), Health (SMoH), Labour & Productivity (SMoL& P). This will in turn check the prevalent situation where these vulnerable learners are officially denied participation in mainstream education and, consequently, are also denied opportunities for appropriate education by their principal welfare support institution. We call on the Honourable Minister for Education (Alhaji Adamu Adamu) in his second coming as a Minister to initiate an Executive Council Memo to move for an immediate review of all such out-dated policies in the Federal Ministries of Health, Women Affairs, Labour and Productivity to be carried out in synergy with the Federal Ministry of Education to protect the right to education for the child and to ensure Education for All to reflect the many global protocols and declarations that Nigeria is signatory to.

 

If one is concerned about policies that pre-dated EFA or that are out of synch with contemporary inclusive approaches, what can we say about the last Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P), with regards to its non-provisions for the education of the vulnerable child?  Such an oversight raises questions about our seriousness to achieve Education for All.

 

However, we can take solace in the current N-Power programme and other social protection programmes introduced by the present federal administration anchored by the Vice President, His Excellency Professor Yemi Osinbajo especially the Home Grown School Meals programme that provides daily meals to all school children which is indicative of a positive uptick in the social protection and education of the vulnerable ones amongst us, so its kudos to the federal government while the 36 State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory and the 774 Local Governments should key into this and do the needful complementarily.

 

To be continued tomorrow...

Posted 03/12/2019 12:17:10 AM

 

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