Still on inclusive education in Nigeria

Despite several reforms/projections towards education for all, it’s still a far cry from reality as analysts say inclusive education is the only panacea to education for all. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes on this in the light of the current global pandemic.

It started in the late 70s when it was branded as Universal Free Primary Education programme (UPE) until the late 80s when it became Education for All by the year 1990. Again, when that became unrealisable, it was rebranded and shifted to the year 2000. As if that magic year would never arrive, it is now 20 years ago; yet, the country has not attained the dreamland of education for all her citizens. From the year 2000, it became globalised as a major component of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG); yet many countries like Nigeria still found it difficult to attain inclusiveness in education even up till now that the projection has metamorphosed into Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

Investigations by Blueprint Weekend showed that despite all the projections, the reality of attaining inclusive education has continued to be a mirage as deprivations in many guises have caused terrible lopsidedness in the number of persons with access to education in the country.

Analysts are of the view that the key challenge to the realisation of this ideal in Nigeria is to ensure that a broader vision of Education for All as an inclusive concept is reflected in national government and funding agency policies.

To that extent, inclusive education is to address the educational needs of all learners in a non-threatening and supportive learning environment in order to include learners who were formally disadvantaged and excluded from education because of artificial and natural barriers to learning. These barriers, according to investigation, may be physical, mental, neurological, mental, emotional, psycho-social, beliefs, colour, racial, religious, and socio-economic and gender in nature. This was why the United Nation (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities called on all party nations to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels where students with special needs are educated in regular classes or at least for more than half of the day. The UN Convention also stipulated that students would receive specialised services outside the regular classroom such as speech therapy, physical therapy or hearing therapy as the case may be.

Lessons from the current pandemic

Throughout history, there are events that affect human lives with several unintended consequences. Over the past months, the whole world has grappled with the impact of Covid-19. Primarily, a health-related issue though but its impact is, however, far-reaching. One area which has been significantly affected is education. All over the world, schools have been forced to close and Nigeria is not left out.

Prior to this pandemic, there had been efforts geared towards addressing educational inequity and ensuring that children everywhere are learning. One of such is the inclusive education programme which has been over-flogged with so much noise without motion.

According to Godwin Henry, an education resource professional based in Kaduna, “Inclusive education is about ensuring access to quality education for all students by effectively meeting their diverse needs in a responsive way. It is about how we develop and design our schools, classrooms and programmes so that all students can learn and participate.

“Are the estimated 46 million students forced to stay at home in Nigeria as a result of the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic still learning? This is the question that had agitated the minds of most Nigerians lately. With the uncertainty regarding how long the shutdown would last, there have been several interventions in some states and schools to ensure that students are still learning; however, it is not applicable in all schools and in many states across the country.”

Report indicates that in line with global trends, highbrow private schools in the country have adopted a virtual learning model. However, a significant number of students are found in public schools with its size in student population, dearth of learning facilities, lack of motivation for teachers and instructors staring at them.

What, therefore, happens to that category of learners in those institutions?

It is true though that some state governments like Lagos, Enugu, in the wake of this pandemic introduced virtual/online learning programmes on radio and television stations, but investigation reveals that a good number of states cannot meet up the demand of this mode of learning thereby jeopardising the future of children. Analysts say this forces the sector to take the back seat.

NBS’s damning report

In assessing this development, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its recent report on effects of the pandemic on education and online lectures stated that, “With an epileptic power situation in the country, it becomes difficult to ascertain the sustainability of virtual learning all over the country. More so is the question of whether all homes have access to electricity to view television programmes. This is vital as approximately 44 per cent of our population live in extreme poverty.”

Stakeholders in education are of the opinion that while radio is a good fit for reaching a wide audience, how many subjects can be effectively taught over the radio and how many pupils have the opportunity of listening to such programmes? They said society therefore needs to remember the learning styles of students, the time it takes to understand what is being transmitted and the different learning environments in order to approximate its effectiveness.

Nutrition in learning

In attaining inclusive education, nutrition, no doubt, plays a crucial part. Fundamentally, the home-grown school feeding programme of the government was introduced to fill that gap. So far, the absence of school meals may cause a lot of students especially in the northern part of the country to abandon schools and ultimately jeopardise the learning programme. It had therefore been observed that even with access to learning opportunities, learning with little or no food intake may impede the whole process.

Writing on the subject matter, Muktar Agbadi, also based in Kaduna, said, “It is also becoming clearer that we cannot completely walk our way out of the current situation. Although technology plays a huge role, we need to start addressing the fundamental issues in our society, one of which is the quality of teachers in the system. Can the existing teachers run a fully functional education technology system?

“Also, what infrastructure can be put in place to cater for all students in the system irrespective of location? As an offshoot of the above, another reality still remains that the rate of internet penetration is not evenly spread across the country and the cost of data is still relatively high to accommodate online learning in order to inclusive education.”

Speaking further, he said, “It has become obvious that going forward, there would be a call to re-evaluate our educational system to truly achieve inclusive education. In doing this, there is no one- size-fits-all strategy. However, the first step in proffering any solution is to know the people for whom the solution is meant. It is high time we had real data about the diverse population in the country. We need to understand the different types of learners in the country, where they are, and their learning needs.

“Also, our learning methodology needs to be revisited. Our institutions and methodologies are being tested; it can no longer be business as usual. We need to act and the time to start acting is now. We need to start putting the right infrastructure and personnel in place in our educational system.”

Special needs students

Inclusive education is also a subject of discourse for special students, especially those classified as persons living with disabilities. According to Disability Studies Quarterly publication on inclusive education for special students, “The process of enhancing the capacity of the education system in any country is to reach out to diverse learners. The basis of inclusion is that special needs pupils have a right to the benefits of a full school experience with needed modifications and supports, alongside their peers without disabilities who receive general education. Some proponents of inclusive education, however, contend that special classes, separate schooling or other forms of removing children with disabilities from the regular environment should occur only when the nature or severity of the disability of the child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary services cannot be accomplished. Today, in Nigeria, special educators, parents of students with disabilities, policy-makers and other stakeholders continue to debate the benefits and challenges of this education paradigm. The discussions have been shaped largely by the principle of inclusion, which stresses that ordinary schools should cater to all children and young people, regardless of their circumstances or personal characteristics.

“It noted that in both low and high-income countries, proponents of the policy of inclusive education are now reaffirming their commitment to education for all and acknowledging the urgency of providing education for their marginalised citizens. This momentum derives from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO’s) proclamation that, among other things, it emphasises that regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all.”

Disparity among children

Education specialist Talbat Aduragba Hussain of the SOAS University of London, a specialist on children and women education, said, “Children on the higher-end of the socio-economic spectrum may experience less disruption to their learning because their private schools are well-equipped with ICT infrastructure and they can afford remote learning resources at home. The majority that would be left struggling are the students from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not have access to computers and other devices outside school. In many cases, these children live in communities with poor or non-existent internet connectivity and unreliable power supply. Inevitably, this digital divide will exacerbate the learning disparities among these children,” she noted.

The nation’s educational system is, no doubt, at risk unless something drastic is done to remedy the situation. In a society with huge disparity in education, where only the rich can afford the best of education the country can offer, where the gap between public and private schools are huge, only a systematic, but drastic effort can remedy the situation.

Time to remove inequalities

For Yinka Dorcas Ladipo and Adebayo Adebori in Teach for Nigeria Fellow, “Now is the time to bridge the gap of educational inequity by ensuring adequate funding of the education sector. The effect of the pandemic is just one out of many implications of educational inequity; we don’t know what awaits us in the future, so it is highly important that we provide an equitable and inclusive learning environment for the students to ensure continuity in learning for all, irrespective of their socio-economic background. One of the palliative measures that can be adopted includes a public-private partnership with non-profits and other government agencies who are working to salvage the situation. Such efforts can be supported through the provision of funds at this critical time. We should not forget that education is the bedrock of every society as education is the solution to whatever problem we might have.”

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