Special education provides students with identified disabilities specialized instruction designed to meet their unique learning needs, giving them the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential.
In a country like Nigeria that has one of the highest out-of-school children globally, it almost seems far-fetched that the country will have even a single functional school dedicated to the most overlooked members of society, the disabled.
What makes matters even more perilous is that one can’t even ascertain the specific number of able-bodied children that don’t have access to an education, let alone the disabled children.
And the reason for this isn’t far off when you consider that most Nigerians are either ignorant or detached on the topic of disabled and special needs individuals or are abhorred and uncomfortable about the topic.
This reason, coupled with the fact that most special schools that do exist in Nigeria are easy to cash grab or money-making factories, it’s quite surprising that there are actually special needs programs available to the masses. And yet they do exist and find a way through it all.
How have these programs dedicated to special needs children’s education lasted so long in Nigeria? What are the issues and limitations special needs institutions have had to deal with over the years?
What is special education?
Special education programs are designed for those students who are mentally, physically, socially and/or emotionally delayed. This aspect of “delay,” broadly categorized as a developmental delay, signify an aspect of the child’s overall development (physical, cognitive, scholastic skills) that place them behind their peers. Students’ needs cannot be met within the traditional classroom environment due to these special requirements.
How special education programs are sustaining themselves in places in Nigeria
Admittedly, Progress has been made over the years regarding special needs education in the country.
More administrators in various states of Nigeria, such as Lagos and Abuja, are starting to see the need and develop the means of establishing special needs institutions in their various states.
However, in many of these establishments, even with government support, keeping them functioning has been a major issue.
And it begs the question, how exactly have special needs institutions been able to survive regardless of all the deterrents and obstacles?
More public awareness
More people are becoming more willing to have an open-minded conversation on what is still considered a taboo topic.
This conversation has sparked a system of education and public awareness of the issues regarding the treatment of special needs Individuals in the country.
As public awareness has grown, this has caused many state administrations to take section 8 of the Nigerian NPE (National policy on education) more seriously and providing a means whereby children with special needs can receive a proper education like able-bodied children.
By establishing these institutions where special needs children can receive proper care and education, the gap in education status between the able-bodied and special needs is slowly being bridged.
NGOs or private funding
Private funding and NGOs have played a pivotal role in starting up and sustaining programs dedicated to educating special needs children.
In fact, without NGOs or private funding, many special needs programs won’t have lasted this long.
Unlike the government in Nigeria that is notorious for starting up a project and abandoning it, these private enterprises are more consistent and dedicated to promoting special needs programs and education of the disabled.
NGOs such as one world Africa that helps people with dyslexia (a learning disability) reach their full potential while still creating awareness have been phenomenal in making a difference in the lives of dyslexic individuals.
Many NGOs, apart from starting these special programs that educate special needs children, also start-up training programs that seek to raise capable instructors with the necessary skill set needed in educating the special needs.
Limitations of special education in Nigeria
Anytime there’s a step forward, there always seems to be two steps back as it seems in retrospect that there really hasn’t been much of a Change in the country’s predisposition towards the education of special needs children.
Even though Progress has been made in more developed and ‘exposed’ parts of the country, other parts of the country are experiencing a lack of advancement.
There is a myriad of reasons why the promotion of special education programs or awareness of special needs or disabilities is so limited in this country.
Cultural bias has to be one of the most profound limitations of special education programs in the country.
Culturally speaking, the topic of disability is considered taboo itself, with people living with disabilities often being sidelined and maltreatment in Nigeria.
In fact, many people are against the idea of creating special educational programs for these disabled children. They consider educating the disabled to be a waste of time and resources.
And this is why there is a constant rift between administrators and policymakers.
This dismissal of the necessity to provide specialized education for the disabled is still a hindrance to the promotion of special needs programs.
Lack of proper funding
There are issues arising that enough money is not being distributed by the government into the education system of the country.
And this lack of funding has been a limitation to sustaining these special needs programs.
In the occurrence that money is donated to fulfilling section 8 of the NPE and giving special needs children equal opportunities as the able-bodied, these monies have often been mishandled. Thus ultimately, nothing came out of it in the end.
Most special needs programs are being sponsored by private enterprises that are profit-driven, and this makes the special needs programs inaccessible to people living within a certain social group or pay group.
Take, for example, the Patrick speech and language center costs over half a million naira (almost$2000) a year to attend in a country where the minimum wage is fifty thousand nairas which are about $131.
The average civil servant sending their child to this school to receive proper education tailored to him/her would be a herculean task.
Lack of qualified instructors
Teachers/instructors aren’t given the proper training needed to handle special needs children, and because of this, both the child and the educator end up being frustrated, and all efforts made might be wasted.
The training in question isn’t cheap as the instructions need to come in a stylized manner to deliver more recent.
However, not enough teachers can afford this special training, and the government isn’t ready to sponsor people to undertake this special training.
Whether or not the right steps are being taken into funding and establishing special needs programs, the fact still remains that there’s still a lot that needs to be done.
The government needs to step up in providing a widespread enlightenment program to remove the cultural bias as well as giving schools the proper funding needed to set up an education program for the disenfranchised members of society.
It’s important that in thinking of a better future for Nigeria, we also put the disabled and other marginalized groups into consideration and help them reach their full potential.