A group championing the cause of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) says segregations in the schooling system is a gross discrimination against children with disabilities, calling for a more inclusive educational model in Nigeria.
“In Nigeria, the educational model mostly practised is segregation, where children with disabilities are educated in special schools. Segregation can often reinforce discrimination against children with disabilities, exclude them from socialisation in a diverse society and make them vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses,” Catherine Edeh, the director, Voice of Disability Initiative (VDI) said on Friday.
She said this while presenting a paper on ‘promoting effective inclusive education practices in Nigeria’ at a press briefing in Abuja held to mark the annual International Day of PWDs.
The annual event every December 3, is established by the United Nations in 1992 to “promote the rights and well-being of PWDs, and to increase awareness of the situation of PWDs in all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life.”
According to UNICEF, an estimated 93 million children worldwide live with disabilities. Nearly 50 per cent of such children are not in school, especially in developing countries like Nigeria.
A 2017 report on inclusive education by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education found that though literacy among children with learning disabilities has increased globally, these children remain severely excluded from educational policies and still lag far behind their peers.
In Nigeria, which has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, ascertaining the percentage of those with learning disabilities is next to impossible as official data is non-existent, an investigation by Devex showed.
As such, any educational plan will most likely not address the needs of those with disabilities, pushing them further to the margins of society.
Nigeria has made concerted efforts by setting up special schools for children with disabilities but that is not what they need, according to Mrs Edeh in her presentation.
“By inclusion, we are talking about all students attending, and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of school,” she said.
“We are not talking about ‘segregation’ school system where special schools for different clusters of learners with disabilities are situated at remote places, thereby exposing them to see themselves differently.
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“We want the government to design our schools, class rooms, programs and activities so that all students learn and participate together without segregation.”
More laws, less implementation
In January 2019, Nigeria signed into law the prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities bill, after over 20 years of advocacy.
The law provides that a person with disability shall have an unfettered right to education without discrimination or segregation in any form. It further stipulates that all public educational establishments shall be run to be inclusive of and accessible to persons with disabilities.
In 2015, Nigeria adopted the National Policy on Special Needs Education. Additionally, the Child Rights Act outlines that every child has the right to free, compulsory and basic education.
Internationally, Nigeria has made a significant commitment to the right to education for children with disabilities by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
But despite these local and international laws and standards, many children with disabilities remain excluded from the educational system, advocates say. For some of those within the educational system, they continue to face various forms of violence and disability-based discrimination.
According to Mrs Edeh, the government can change these narratives by modifying the education curriculum to ensure the “adoption and enabling of children with disabilities to fully participate in the learning environment that is designed for all students and is shared with peers in the chosen educational setting.”