One of our main focus is on driving educational advocacy for children with developmental disorders in Nigeria, particularly on the provision of free, tailored education and related services for children with developmental and learning disabilities within the public school system.
The scope of our work include increasing awareness about early intervention in developmental and learning disorders (we believe that early intervention is key as it affords most individuals the best option for recovery and others the best opportunity of living a functional life depending on the severity of the challenge.) and driving a multi-faceted national advocacy campaign seeking a strong, legislated inclusive national education policy.
The right to free, compulsory and comprehensive primary/basic education which ensures the developm ent of a child’s mental, physical, social and psychological wellbeing is a universal legal entitlement guaranteed to children the world over and it is also a moral claim. This right to education is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which our great nation Nigeria is signatory to, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and also to The Child Rights Act 2003 of Nigeria. Some state governments in Nigeria also have these rights enshrined such as in The 2007 Child Rights Law of Lagos State and the Lagos State Special peoples Law 2011. Unfortunately, all these provisions have not guaranteed that these rights are extended to children with special needs in Nigeria.
Our investigations have revealed that less than 5% of children with special needs have access to the education they are entitled to by law and of this 5%, less than 1% had this right guaranteed through services provided by the government through the Universal Basic Education Scheme which guarantees free education to all primary aged pupils within the public school system. The remaining 4% accessed this often expensive service through privately run special schools or service providers.
Our investigations also found no federally funded program and only one state government sponsored scheme in the whole nation, and of the services provided by the government, we found it to be lacking in fulfilling its goals of providing a comprehensive education. The investigations exposed a flawed understanding of the educational needs of children with special needs, a dearth of qualified professionals including special educators, speech language pathologists, occupational, physical and music therapists etc.; a total disregard for the dignity of the individuals enrolled, neglect of existing infrastructure and facilities and an unusable and unsuitable curriculum with impassable standardized tests.
All the units we have visited were in an abysmal state of disorder and chaos, overpopulated and under staffed with absolutely no learning taking place. In one of such places was a classroom with just one lone teacher and 50 pupils with differing special needs; some on the autism spectrum, some with physical/ hearing impairments, others with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and downs syndrome ranging in age from 4years to 24 years with absolutely no additional teaching or non-teaching support.
The ‘best’ scenario we found was a unit consisting of 7 teachers with 99 students with different challenges and one care – giver. While we thought the services to be meager at best, we were encouraged by the initiative shown by the state in remembering children with special needs and trying to include them in the state educational policies, albeit, through a flawed system but we also wondered what manner of education the government expect the children to acquire in such places?
Our children are entitled to an education tailored to their needs and it is our responsibility to ensure that the government protects these rights already enshrined in our laws and to develop, as well as provide a tailored national education curriculum/policy for children with special needs that will be implemented nationwide, in addition, to establish a special needs unit in all existing or future government funded public schools and ensure such schools equally benefit from the upgrade and restructuring going on presently in the public schools. The special-needs units will need an increase of ably qualified professionals that will administer to the children, a rigorous training and train-the-trainer program to ensure a continuous supply of qualified teachers, therapists and caregivers who are up to speed on universal standards of teaching and care and to enforce a monitoring system to ensure best practices. We believe that this is not beyond t he realm of possibility and we are availing ourselves to be part of this process at no cost whatsoever.
A part of what CRI does already is to provide educational and learning support to one of such units in a public school in our community BUT THIS IN ITSELF IS NOT SUFFICIENT WITHIN THE EXISTING STRUCTURE AND WITH THE EXISTING CURRICULUM THEY ARE FORCED TO WORK WITH. We have prepared a position paper making the case for tailored educational and related services for children with special needs within the public school system using an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as part of the services provided by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) under the aegis of the Universal Basic Education Scheme by the Federal and State Ministry’s of Education ready for presentation and dialogue with all relevant government stakeholders also at no cost.
CRI has also received approval to run a pilot scheme hopefully that can be replicated nationwide with 50 students with different special needs that we currently provide learning support. To this effect, a Special Education Consultancy Group has been commissioned to assess the educational needs of our children, develop an individualized education plan (IEP) based on those needs, recruit, train and retrain the teaching and non-teaching staff required to suitably care for the students and to supervise and monitor the administration of services to ensure optimum performance. In order to do this successfully, we are looking to partner with interested parties within the private sector as part of their corporate social responsibility act. Let us remember that families need support, knowledge and skills to effectively intervene, advocate for their children and access services.If the small band of parents that constitute CRI can successfully run this pi lot scheme, then our government can and must rise to fulfill their obligations in ensuring the right of the child with special needs to a free, compulsory and comprehensive education is no longer violated. On this, we are willing to partner with government and other stakeholders. We truly believe that education is the greatest gift you can give an individual and also that educating a child with special needs is not only a right that cannot be denied but also a great tool for helping affected persons identify, develop and maximize their potentials.