Kojo Musah aged 16, has down’s syndrome. His parents, who hail from Ejura in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, were initially not enthusiastic about sending Kojo to school because of his disability. However, a little over a year ago they noticed he was getting along well with few friends he plays with in the community.
They have also noticed some improvement in his level of assertiveness as a result of the constant interaction with his playmates. Such observations changed their initial perception and decided to enroll Kojo in the community primary school. Several attempts to get him enrolled in the local authority school proved futile because teachers and school administrators alike did not consider him to have the intellectual capacity to be formally educated. The head teacher of the school in particular was reluctant to enrol Kojo on the grounds that he is a “special needs child” and the school did not have the support he may need. He further explained that it will be difficult for Kojo to cope with the pace of learning, and that adapting the teaching and learning approach to Kojo’s pace will negatively affect the other pupils in the class. Consequently, the head teacher suggested that enrolling Kojo in a special school, with boarding facilities was his best shot at education.
The above narrative captures a running theme regarding the challenge of inclusive education, particularly of children with intellectual disabilities (CWIDs) in Ghana. The concept of Inclusive Education (IE) is geared towards offering opportunities to all children to participate in regular school learning. In my view, it offers hope to children of differing backgrounds – disability, orphans and vulnerable children, ethnic minority, migrant, street children, displaced, children living with HIV/AIDs – to access formal education in regular schools. Despite the adoption of the Inclusive Education Policy in 2015, many decision-makers at national and sub-national levels in Ghana continue to hold on to the old tradition that fulfilling the right of CWIDs to education is to have special schools where they are enrolled and learn together. There are also key issues such as stigma and discrimination against CWIDs, structural inaccessibility, inadequate skilled personnel and learning materials.
To address the above highlighted issues pertaining to inclusive education of CWIDs in Ghana, there is the need to address barriers that confront them and limit their meaningful participation in inclusive learning environments. A ray of hope is the recent modifications of Ghana’s Teacher Training curricula to incorporate modules on inclusive education, and the development of In-Service Training (INSET) modules to ensure that all teachers have the needed skills to manage inclusive classrooms consisting of pupils such as Kojo Nsiah, to enable them participate meaningfully in classroom learning. In addition, the recently introduced “first-day-at-school” programme by the Ghana Education Service is another effort to ensure effective implementation of inclusive education in Ghana. It is hoped that through this annual exercise, pupils who require assistive devices to enable them meaningfully participate in classrooms can be identified early enough for appropriate support.
Moreover, there are in place social protection interventions such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme being implemented in the country, which could directly or indirectly facilitate enrolment and retention of children with intellectual disabilities in schools. Besides, parents/caregivers of CWIDs must not lose sight of their role in raising awareness on intellectual disabilities and advocating for their children’s right to inclusive education on an equal basis with others. It is my fervent hope that as more and more parents/caregivers become aware of the rights of CWIDs to inclusive education, and the part that they should play to promote, protect and fulfill this right, a positive behaviour change will happen amongst parents/caregivers, which may culminate in the removal of the systemic, domestic or social barriers that confront CWIDs and limit their meaningful participation in inclusive learning environments.
The story of Kojo Musah, albeit common to many children with intellectual disabilities in Ghana, calls for direction of focus to ensure it does not become a consistent barrier to meaningful participation of children in our educational system. The country’s inclusive education policy presents us good opportunities to realise inclusive education for all children irrespective of their disabilities or vulnerability. On this note, on-going efforts need to be sustained or modified if necessary to make our educational system truly inclusive.
The Writer is Auberon Jeleel Odoom, a graduate student at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria
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