From Sola Ojo, Kaduna
According to the Global Campaign for Education, the estimated 1 billion people who live with a disability face a multitude of barriers to participating equally in society. In particular, their right to education is often not realised, which in turn negatively affect their access to other rights and creates enormous obstacles to reaching their potential and effectively participating in their communities.
Available statistics showed that an estimated 93 million children – or 1 in 20 of those aged up to 14 years, live with a moderate or severe disability globally.
In most low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria, children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children because they have very low rates of initial enrolment. Even if they do attend school, children living with disabilities are often more likely to drop out and leave school early.
Currently, there are no reliable statistics on the number of people with disability, but, it is estimated that 10 percent of the population are in this category.
In some parts of Nigeria, having a disability can be a big issue for such a child not to be in school because those important things like special attention, ramps, learning materials, the ratio of student per teacher, special training and retraining of teachers among others are not there.
However, the Kaduna State education reforms appear to be taking into cognizance, the need for inclusive education for all children in the state – from infrastructure planning to execution.
It is in this order that, a non-governmental organisation called Sightsavers Nigeria is interested in seeking a robust partnership with Kaduna State Government about inclusive education even when the education authority believed it is already doing something in this regard.
At a meeting recently held at the conference room, Ministry of Education, Kaduna State, Fabian Tukmen, Sightsavers Nigeria Country Office, said the meeting became necessary to all the parties involved due to the urgent need to collectively address social inclusion especially as it affects children with disability.
“This meeting is very important to us at Sightsavers Nigeria, the ministry and to the Kaduna State Government as a whole because we are talking about social inclusion which has to do with exclusivity of persons with disabilities most especially children in this category.
“Kaduna state government is leading in education development but most of the facilities in public schools are not friendly with children with disabilities.
“Pending the time we will have all the teachers in Kaduna state trained on how to manage children with disabilities, we want to plead with the ministry to help retain some teachers that have been trained in some of our schools.
“So, we are looking at how we can join hand with the state government to ensure that all our schools are inclusive – with the building of ramps and other things that will make learning easy for them.
“For example, the environment should be made accessible for them to learn like other children so, they can have a good education, good civic responsibility and good economic engagement like every other person”, Fabian said.
Talking from her personal experience about exclusion, Executive Director, Women With Disability Self Reliance Foundation, Riskat Toyin Muhammed, decried the plight of children with disability from acceptance to enrolment and retains through the basics.
“We have been there and we know what the physically challenged children are facing in accessing education in public schools”, she added.
Also sharing his personal experience during that meeting, Admin Officer, Hope for Handicap, Pastor Monday, narrated how he was unable to be admitted into a government primary school until third time due to his persistence.
“I knew what I passed through in Malali when I was seeking admission in primary school. I was rejected but I kept pushing and eventually scaled through in the third term.
“For those children with disabilities who manage to enter classrooms, some do not finish before they drop out because the environment is not conducive for them to learn alongside other children”, he added.
Responding, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Kaduna State, Ms Phoebe Sukai Yayi, said, “as I can remember, there is virtually no any project in Kaduna state now that do not has inclusiveness.
“We understand your passion that long before now, it was not there but it is not something we can do overnight. We have already started and we are moving.
“Yes, we are already on it and you want us to do more, that we will do. We need collaboration where we come together, compare notes, do gap analysis and then, identify where we need to move fast or slow down for better planning and implementation”, she said.
To this end, tackling this severe discrimination is a matter of urgency because this denial of the right to education robs children of the future benefits of education and the opportunity to access other rights.
From Global campaign for Education perspective, lack of focus on educating disabled children is also impacting on the chances of delivering on the international promise to achieve universal primary education – a globally-agreed target set out in the Education For All and Millennium Development Goals (SDGs).