Special education: Challenges, way forward



The sun will shine on those who are standing before it shines on those who kneel under them. – Prof Chinua Achebe This famous quote from the late Professor Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, seems to be the attitude of government and society towards education of people with special needs in society. Compared to other countries with less resources than Nigeria, not much has really been done towards educating able-bodied persons so it is not surprising that almost nothing is being done towards educating the challenged, especially in the area of providing conducive environment and incentives for people to go into special education. In this report, Vanguard Learning (VL) seeks the opinion of stakeholders on the state of special education, the challenges, expectations and the way forward. Excerpts: THE 2006 national census puts the figure of persons with disability in Nigeria at 3,253,169, with about 39 per cent of school age. This calls for concerted efforts by all and sundry to make life worthwhile for these people. Special Education teacher training: According to Professor Joanne Umolu, a retired Professor of Special Education and Director of Jos-based Open Doors for Special Learners, she taught in the Special Education Department of the University of Jos from 1979 to 1999. “I was the first lecturer to teach in the newly created Learning Disabilities Unit. Post-graduate programmes The other two units, Visual Handicap and Hearing Handicap had already started. “In the beginning, the majority of our students were enrolled in a pre-degree programme but over the years, we have had enrolment in the degree and post-graduate programmes. Many of our students did not choose to study Special Education; they were in our department because they couldn’t get admission to read the course of their choice. Fortunately, although they were reluctant to study Special Education at first, many of them eventually became enthusiastic about the course. This usually happened when they started interacting with individuals with disabilities,” she said. Low enrolment: An accomplished media practitioner who spoke under condition of anonymity, told VL how he had to drop the idea of pursuing a programme in Special Education because friends and fellow students made mockery of him. “I found Special Education interesting but the wisecracks made me opt for Educational Administration. I was called Oba awon abirun, (Yoruba phrase meaning King of the disabled)”, he said. Umolu agreed that students outside the department look down on Special Education students. Peret Dakwat, a teacher at Open Doors and a Special Education graduate, said she did not apply for the course but was posted there after her remedial studies. Motivation: Speaking on what led them into the special education field, Umolu said: “While I was still with Unijos, many parents used to come to the department seeking help for their children with disabilities. So when I left the university in September 1999, I decided to establish a special education centre to cater for such families. “Our doors are open to children who are otherwise excluded from school. We provide specialised  education tailored to the individual needs for children with physical and learning disabilities such as Autism, Down’s Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy etc.” Speaking to VL, Dr. Dolapo Ogunbawo said she specialised in Educational Psychology to enable her understand how to help other children going through the same challenge to overcome because she was a victim of learning difficulty as a child. Learning  difficulty A Doctor of Education Psychology who retired from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, and presently the School Development Manager, Lekki British International School, Lagos, said: “Like so many children, I grew up finding learning very challenging and my father, who believed in me, had to devise a way that enabled me to study and understand. While my mates would study for one hour and understand, my father made me study for four hours, and that really helped me.” “I got motivated in the field after my first teaching practice when I saw the different categories of children. It was then I fell in love with the course,” said Peret. Mr. Pius, also a Special Education graduate and teacher at Open Doors, said apart from being motivated by God to go into the field, he saw it as “the most virgin field one may choose to spend his energy, resources, intellect and experience in. It is unending.” A volunteer at Open Doors, Mr. Jim noted that “Special education is a neglected field in Nigeria. I realised the needs of special people are as real as any other.” Blessing, another volunteer said she was motivated by compassion that filled her heart the first time she had a one-on-one interaction with a disabled person. “I felt I could give a little help.” Getting teachers:Prof. Umolu said the centre has been lucky in terms of getting teachers and volunteers. “Almost all of our teachers went through the Special Education Dept of UniJos. Every year, Special Education students are posted here for their internship so we are able to recruit some of them after they graduate.” Practising ex-students: Umolu regretted that “only a very small minority stay in the field. Part of the problem is that there are not enough opportunities for employment of special education graduates in the field so they end up as teachers in regular schools or they leave the teaching profession completely.” Role of govt/society: On the role of government and society, tyhe trespondents all agree on the need for a legislation on special education. “The government is not helping matters at all. There are many families who want to enroll their children in Open Doors but who cannot afford to do so. Tremendous challenge Transporting the children to and from school is a tremendous challenge for many families, especially for children who cannot sit on their own. We have applied to Plateau State Government to be grant-aided since 2009 but up to now, we don’t receive any assistance from the state. In Nigeria, many children who live with physical or learning disabilities are often shunned by their family or community; many of them are left isolated, and are discouraged from attending regular school. They end up feeling confused, alone and frustrated,” said Umolu. “Government should speed up legislation for Special Education and disability bills. They should work with the community to eliminate stigma, bias and ignorance,” said Jim. Blessing feels that government and society should give attention to special education teachers by providing better facilities and equipment at special education centres to help make the work easier. “Also, special education teachers should be placed on a better salary scale.” Peret asks for the provision of teaching equipment for special education centres. “Society and government should stop discrimination in job employment. Pius believes that until special education teachers are paid living wages, most of them will keep doing other jobs (to supplement their income) and hence cannot do not fully concentrate on their work. “They need to be paid well. The society must be regularly informed about special children and learn to accept such children.” Ogunbawo is of the view that Government should mandate all schools to establish special education department in their schools with the sole aim of catering for children who find learning challenging. “The department would not be for only young children as it would offer skills training to those who are not academically inclined. This is because so many children are suffering because they don’t learn the way their peers learn and most time, their parents are at a loss as to what to do especially as majority of these children don’t have and physical or mental challenge.” Way forward: “A bill to establish a Federal Special Education Commission is still pending. It must be passed and implemented. That is a priority now. Then each state should establish its Commission and fund it. Plateau State was the first state to pass a law establishing a Commission but we have yet to feel the impact. Tremendous challenge When it is well funded and fully implemented, families of children from this state should receive some assistance in meeting the special needs of their children,” said Umolu. Experiences:Peret: “No regrets. Special education is really a course to study. I have seen love in practice. I have to teach a thing several times.” Pius: “I realised I need to enlarge the scope of my knowledge in this field through research. The experiences have been practical and challenging. I have no regrets at all.” Jim: “It has been challenging and fulfilling. Understanding and meeting needs is difficult but there is joy that comes from engaging and mediating for these persons.” Blessing: “The experience has been a blessing to me as a person because it has made me appreciate others more and also to see life in a broader and better view. Jim: “No regrets at all because it has helped me to become aware of another level of humanism and to appreciate the irrepressibility of the human spirit.”

Source: Vanguardngr.com