A feature by Auberon Jeleel Odoom
Accra, Jan. 17, GNA - On the 17th October 2019, I was on a trip to my organization’s project districts, and happened to travel from Kadjebi to Yeji via the ferry crossing at Kete-Krachi. While enduring an uncomfortable wait of more than three hours for the ferry to cross the Volta Lake from Kete-Krachi to Kojokrom, I discovered something that will likely be of interest to many social development workers like me. Around 12:30 pm, I saw two young girls – Ama and Yaa, both aged between 10 and 12years around the Ferry Station. They were seated beside a table on which was placed two containers, one with some quantity of doughnuts and the other with some quantity of the locally made soft drink, “Sobolo”. I walked to their side and asked, “Do you go to school?” They replied yes, so I asked why they did not attend school on that very day. Ama said, we went to school but decided to leave around 12 noon to go and sell at the ferry Station. I asked what time their school closed each day, and they told me 2pm, so I naturally concluded that they would be missing some lessons whilst they were at the station and their mates were still in the classroom learning. They agreed with me but insisted it was necessary for them to leave early so they could sell their stock for the day.
In this country, when the issue of Inclusive Education (IE) is raised, the key question that pops in the minds of many citizens or even duty bearers is how to get children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream schools. Thus, the issues of facilitating physical access to classrooms by children with disabilities become prominent in ensuing discussions. This is true of IE and a very important subject matter. However, ensuring children with disabilities gain physical access to school premises and classrooms is only one-side of the “IE Coin”. The other side of the coin can easily be overlooked. This side is ensuring that all the children in the classroom participate or are included in the learning that takes place during teaching hours. In the case of children with mild to severe disabilities, particularly, intellectual and developmental disabilities, many have some reservations as to how these children can be truly included in regular classroom learning. Hence, some service providers see some practical issues with this side of the IE Coin. Yet, there are many children who have no diagnosis or any form of disabilities but are not effectively included or participate in the learning in classrooms for various reasons.
The situation faced by little Ama and Yaa in Kete-Krachi is not unique to them, but common to many children sitting in regular classrooms. Examples of such children are children living with step-parents who overburden them with household chores such that they hardly get time to do assignments taken home. Also, consistently, they report to school late in the mornings. There are also many school children who sell on the busy roads in our cities, and more often have their minds on their experiences on the roadside instead of paying attention to what is being taught in the classroom. Street Children, nomadic children (shepherd boys, fisher-folks’ children and domestic child workers), children with other health impairment and chronic diseases such as rheumatism, epilepsy, asthma, spinal bifida and sickle cell anaemia, children living with HIV/AIDS, children exploited for financial purposes, children displaced by natural catastrophes and social conflicts, children of migrant parents/families, and gifted and talented children require special attention to ensure they are not excluded in classroom learning either through lack of attention or frequent absenteeism. Children who fall in any of the groups mentioned above, including children with disabilities, are collectively referred to as children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), and these ones can easily lose out of quality education if support is not provided to them by our basic education system.
Fortunately, the State and Development Partners are putting in more efforts to ensuring that children with SEN do not lose out on education in regular schools. The modification of Ghana’s Teacher Training curricula to incorporate modules on Inclusive Education, the development of In-Service Training (INSET) modules and the “Safe Schools” Pack are just few examples for ensuring that all teachers have the needed skills to manage inclusive classrooms, through their ability to do basic screening to identify pupils with SEN and to take the necessary support actions, including referrals, to enable them to participate meaningfully in classroom learning. The recently introduced “My first-day at school” pupils screening exercise in all public basic schools by the Ghana Education Service (GES) is another effort to ensuring effective implementation of inclusive education in Ghana. It is hoped that through this annual exercise, pupils who require assistive devices to enable them to meaningfully participate in classrooms can be identified early enough for appropriate support. In addition, there are various social protection programmes being implemented in the country, which directly or indirectly facilitate enrolment and retention of children with SEN in schools.
The citizenry, particularly, parents and guardians of children with SEN as enumerated above, must not lose sight of the corresponding efforts that is required from them to enable these children to benefit on equitable basis from our education system. Awareness-raising and sensitisation of the citizenry on their responsibilities to supporting inclusive education must, therefore, continue on various platforms – media, religious gatherings, community durbars, festivals and the likes. It is hoped that as more and more parents and guardians become aware of the rights of all categories of children to education, and the part that they should play to promote, protect and fulfill these rights, a positive behaviour change will happen amongst parents and guardians, which will result in the removal of the systematic, domestic or social barriers that confront vulnerable children and limit their meaningful participation in classroom learning.
The story of Ama and Yaa, albeit common to many children in the country, only calls for more attention or direction of focus to ensure it does not become a consistent barrier to meaningful participation of children in our basic education system. There are good opportunities for us as a country to realise inclusive education for all children, irrespective of their disabilities or vulnerability. On-going efforts need to be sustained or modified if necessary to make our basic education system truly inclusive.