Abuja: Making Primary Education Accessible for Children With Special Needs

Bassey Bassey

Bassey Bassey

The National Population commission estimates that there are 19 million persons with special needs in Nigeria1. The term “special needs” is a general term that is used to describe conditions that may range from developmental issues, to behavioural, mental, medical and learning impediments or challenges. These conditions may be acute or benign, short-termed or lifelong.

Children with special needs can be described as those who have one or more disabilities that impair their ability to learn and perform ordinary, everyday activities. They may have mental retardation which can cause them to develop slower than other children; speech and language Impairment such as a problem expressing themselves or understanding others; physical disability, such as vision problem; learning disabilities which distort messages from their senses and; emotional disabilities, such as antisocial or other behavioral problems. These challenges require special attention to aid these children reach their full potential.

According to UNESCO, there are over 10.5 million out of school children in

Nigeria. Presumably, a quarter of them are children with disabilities. This estimation is in line with World Bank and WHO projections that persons with disabilities constitute about 15% of populations in developing countries and that between 80 to 90% of them don’t gain access to the basic needs of life, especially, basic education.2 In Nigeria, several factors can be attributed for this poor access to basic or primary education by special-needs children, and they can be classified into societal, family and governmental factors.  Societal factors include: negative perceptions and attitudes towards special-needs children in society, cultural stigma and negative religious connotations ascribed to special-needs children. On the part of the family, the issues include: late identification of children’s special needs or challenges, unacceptance, neglect, stigmatization and unwillingness to send children with special needs to school by parents and family members. The latter was the major complaint by a person living with disability (PLWD) during an interactive session organized by HipCity Innovation Centre on March 9, 2022. The PLWD lamented that many families neglect the education of their special needs or physically challenged children and focus only on their other children (https://fb.watch/caET8jkdS5/).3 On the part government, the unavailability of an adequate number of schools for special needs children in many states, the neglect of these schools where they do exist that has led to them being rundown, dilapidated and ill-equipped to serve their purpose and the lack of teachers fully trained to teach special-needs children are some of the major challenges facing the education of these persons. This is despite the fact that Nigeria has signed and ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and also signed up to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which specifically targets that all children of school-age, including those with disabilities must have access to qualitative, effective and functional basic education by 2030.

Although to their credit, Nigeria cannot be said to be lacking in local policy or laws supporting the education of children with special needs. The National Policy on Education stipulates that education must be inclusive and that all children including those with disabilities have the right to qualitative, functional and effective basic education, while the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 provides that basic education is free and compulsory for all school-age children. More recently, The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities(Prohibition) Act which was signed into law in 2019 prohibits the discrimination of persons in access to education and other basic rights based on their physical, mental or sensory impairment. It also provides that persons living with disability are entitled to free education up to secondary school level.

However, as is the bane of Nigeria’s existence, execution and implementation of well-thought and well-meaning policies and laws such as those mentioned above would always pose a challenge.

Primary education of special-needs children according to the Federal Ministry of Education can either be in full-fledged special needs schools or inclusive schools which gives special-needs children the opportunity to learn with other children in the same environment. However, these schools’ buildings are supposed to be disability friendly and equipped with tools to aid special-needs learners. In the FCT, there are only 8 full-fledged special needs primary schools and 352 inclusive primary schools that are government owned.1 This number is one of the lowest in Nigeria and grossly inadequate to serve the teeming population of special-needs children in Abuja, many of whom their parents cannot afford the exorbitant cost of private special needs schools. Also, a PLWD reported in the Hipcity Innovation Center interaction session mentioned earlier, that most so-called ‘Inclusive Schools’ do not have the necessary building structures, facilities and classroom equipment to facilitate teaching and learning for special-needs children which makes them more or less ineffective in their education and discourages these children from continuing to attend these schools;4 and even the few full-fledged schools cannot boast of a standard school structure, let alone, adequate or up-to-date equipment, instructional materials and teachers. These schools are mostly in a sorry state and unenticing.

Furthermore, worthy of mention is the fact that the FCT only has only 3 functional full-fledged special needs schools located in 2 of their 6 area councils: Kuje and Abuja Municipal. What this means is that most of the area councils, communities and chiefdoms of the original inhabitants(OIs) of Abuja will not be able to access these schools. Does it then mean that OIs do not have special-needs children who need to be educated? These schools do not have enough boarding facilities, how then can these children attend from their local communities. This is one of the many ways that the OIs of Abuja are unfortunately being denied basic rights by the government, not regarding the fact that amongst other basic rights, the right to education is one that should be given pride of place as education is a social leveler and indispensable in the empowerment and development of any people and more so the ones with disability.

The absence of designated special needs schools in these chiefdoms to cater for the special-needs children in these communities is a far-cry from the promise of free basic education for persons with disabilities and for all children that is entrenched in the law. There is thus, need for prompt action to be taken in this regard. More special needs schools need to be established, equipped and made functional across the FCT and attendance made compulsory for all children with special needs. This mandate can be enforced in communities using the agency of the traditional institution and leaders in the respective communities. Government also has to employ, train and retrain teachers and other relevant staff such as therapists, counselors and doctors who will work in these schools, to ensure that they provide best practices. These schools should be made free as stipulated in the Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 and supported by The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities(Prohibition) Act of 2019 to encourage families to send their children and wards.

On their part, families should desist from denying special-needs children the opportunity for basic education. Special-needs children have the potential to be just as great as any child and so should not be relegated to being used for begging. Families should not see children with disability as burdens or less important than those without any disability, rather they should encourage them to take advantage of available schools to acquire basic education and even go beyond that.

Communities should also stop propagating stereotypes and stigmatizing persons with disabilities and children with special-needs. They are humans just like everyone else and should be treated with respect and dignity.

In conclusion, children with special needs abound in our communities. They too like others, have the right to a standard and comprehensive primary education if they are to live a full life and contribute their quota to societal development rather than be a burden to their families and communities in the future. Many special needs children have grown to become professionals in different fields, professionals who are not only able to cater for themselves and their families while pulling their weight in society, but also, have become a source of inspiration for many other disabled, disadvantaged and even normal people. But sadly, these success stories represent a small percentage of the entire population of special-needs people due to one or more of the challenges mentioned previously. It therefore behooves on government, communities and families to play their part in addressing these challenges for the purpose of not only empowering these persons but also for the sake of inclusion, equity and the development and progress of the FCT and its chiefdoms.

FOOTNOTE

  1. https://educeleb.com/statistics-special-needs-schools-nigeria/
  2. http://www.jonapwd.org/Factsheet%20inclusive%20Education.pdf
  3. https://www.facebook.com/hipcityhub/videos/a-person-with-disability-pwd-talking-about-issueschallenges-faced-in-accessing-b/287997443469814/
  4. https://www.facebook.com/1083280435028633/videos/94843840586733

 

Dorcas Edet is a Programs Manager at HipCity Innovation Centre – a research and documentation organization working to promote resilient rural and urban communities.

 

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