SPEECH DELIVERED BY MR. MULUMBA NGMENLABAGNA SONGSORE – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR NECESSARY AID ALLIANCE (NAA GHANA) ON THEIR ADVOCACY, MENTORSHIP & EDUCATIONAL SOUVENIRS FOR ALL STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS IN MAINSTREAM SCHOOLS IN THE UPPER WEST REGION. NAA GHANA IS SERVING AS AN AMPLIFIER ON THE CHALLENGES OF STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS FACE IN REGULAR SCHOOLS
Inclusive Education is an integral part of the many variables that drive development of every country hence considered as very important to the realization of the status of a developed world. One dominant feature of third world countries is the canker of high illiteracy rate especially among people with special needs. Ghana being a third world is no exception. It is important to highlight that education of children with special needs has come a long way; from special education to integrated education and from integrated education to inclusive education which guarantees access to the mainstream schools for children with special needs. Inclusivity hold key values such as diversity and portrays individual’s exclusive inalienable rights to education but acknowledging that every child has unique abilities and needs to function properly and unearth their potentials to the larger benefits of society.
The principle of Inclusive Education was adapted at the UNESCO 1994, Salamanca World Conference on Special Needs Education and was restated at the Dakar World Education Forum (2000) as: ‘’schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions’’. They should include disabled and gifted children, street and working children, children from remote or nomadic populations, children from linguistic, ethnic or cultural minorities and children from other disadvantaged or marginalized areas or groups’’.
The fight for inclusive education has massive support from notable international organizations and treaties. The United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (2006) emphasizes the right of persons with disabilities to access lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, through reasonable accommodation of their disabilities and not to be excluded from the mainstream of education due to their disability.
Ghana, just like several other African countries has commitment to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education through the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Salamanca Accord and most importantly the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana on the international commitment on World Declaration on Education for All (1990), cannot be realized in the provision of education if children with disabilities or special needs are continually denied and also not motivated to participate in mainstream education system. The legal constitutional backing of Inclusive Education in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana is in Article 25 (1) which states that ‘’all persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities, with a view of achieving the full realization of that right: basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all’’. The delivery of education in Ghana is a right for all children of school going age hence no child within the bracket of school going age should be denied that opportunity.
I must be quick to highlight that, Ghana through the Ministry of Education and the Ghana Education Service (GES) has adopted and implemented policies geared towards the achievement of universal primary education for all, over the years. These policies are also intended to enable the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Different initiatives such as the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education, Girl-Child Education, and capitation grant, the school feeding programme, free school uniforms, were designed to encourage school enrolment, retention and completion rates. There are over 16,500 pupils with mild disability that are enrolled in mainstream basic schools across the country. There are about a thousand children enrolled in special schools as recorded by the Ghana Education Service (GES). As nations across the globe move towards inclusive education provision, the Ghanaian education system has made some strides in this regard. The Inclusive Education (IE) programme has expanded from 29 districts in seven regions in 2011 to 46 districts in all sixteen regions. The IE programme has included training in usage of appropriate pedagogy for district staff, head teachers and teachers working with children with special educational needs.
In spite of these initiatives and major declarations with international bodies, it is rather sad that many school-age children continue to remain out of school, some of those who are in school are not learning successfully, while others drop out of school without completing. Thus, the current education system continues to marginalize and exclude some children.
There are myriad challenges that inhibit the performances of students with special needs studying in mainstream schools that needs urgent attention from the government to ensure that the state of inclusive education in Ghana is improved. Some of these challenges include;
- Inadequate Teaching and learning materials, recorders, braille, headset, optical devices, tactile symbols, audio books for reading, magnifiers, perking bridlers, embossers are critical learning materials for students with visual impairment in mainstreams schools but as we speak, these all important materials are woefully inadequate or totally not available in mainstream schools like Wa Secondary Senior High School. This has tremendously hindered teaching and learning in school.
- Furthermore, there is lack of access to mainstream schools for students with special needs to study. In the whole region, students with visual impairment can only access Senior High Education at Wa Secondary as a mainstream school, it is however important to furnish more mainstream schools with the relevant infrastructure to handle special students.
- Lack of awareness creation and general apathy among stakeholders towards inclusive education has led to heightened discrimination and marginalization of students with special needs. This is a wakeup call to appropriate quarters like the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE).
- Also, there persist the challenge of having adequate trained teachers with competence to handle students with special needs in mainstreams schools and even, the trained teachers with expertise in handling special needs students in mainstream schools are poorly motivated making them divert attention to other sectors. It is important that the government activate the trainer of trainees program in the various Teacher Trainee Colleges and make it compulsory for all trained teachers to understand the proper methodologies in handling all caliber of students. Improved motivational packages will keep them on the job.
- The challenge of having large class size makes general concentration in class a problem, this is more of a bigger problem for students with special needs as they strain to hear teachers. It is apt that the government expands the infrastructure in these schools to decongest the class sizes which will inure to a serene environment for studies.
- Mobility challenges as a result of uneven grounds, high rise buildings without elevators but staircase is a great discomfort for student. This has resulted in visually impaired students hitting legs on stones hurting their feet or falling down. This bring to light the need for government contractors to ensure that grounds are leveled and high rise building are easily accessible.
Necessary Aid Alliance is using this medium to amplify the challenges students with special needs face in mainstream schools, some of the conditions identified are so appalling and very unfair to people who need our utmost support, as stated by Judith Heutmann, ‘disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things needed to lead one’s daily life.’ It is therefore important that government rise up from mere sloganeering of Education For All and mere unimplemented Inclusive Education Policy documents to actually endeavor to ensure that the felt challenhges of students with special needs are addressed. Regular schools are very reluctant to admit students with special needs because they are without the requisite facilities and equipment’s to properly assist them to catch up with studies but when mainstream schools are empowered, they will be motivated to open doors across all levels for diversity and let students with special needs feel comfortable in those environments. The slogans and signing of international declarations only appears that our country is seriously addressing the challenges of students with special needs when in actual fact more works need to be done. We will know that INCLUSIVE EDUCATION has really become EMBEDDED IN OUR CULTURE when the term becomes obsolete.
We call on government, individual philanthropist, international and local nonprofits organizations, churches and all other faith based institution to reach out for active partnerships, collaborations or support to help us bridge this educational inequality gap among students with special needs in mainstream education. Every student can learn just not on the same day or in the same way.
Pictures of the event in Wa Secondary Senior High School
Insert is section students with disabilities in regular schools, presentation of educational souvenirs by the President of Upper West Queen Mothers Association.