A significant number of PWDs are not in school
A significant number of PWDs are not in school

The future of special education in Ghana

Between the 2010 and 2020 census, there was a substantial increase in the number of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

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In 2010, Ghana’s population was approximately 24.6 million, with about three per cent or 737,743 identified as PWDs. 

A decade later, in 2020, our population grew to 30.8 million and PWDs increased significantly to 2,098,138, representing eight per cent of the population – a five percent-point increase from previous data.

In Ghana, the census classifies PWDs into six domains as persons who cannot perform an activity including hearing, seeing, remembering or concentrating, walking or climbing stairs, communicating or self-care.

In an evolving world and a fast-changing education landscape, we must examine, more critically, our efforts at providing inclusive education for all.  While the general population has about eight per cent of PWDs, our public schools have less than two per cent of students as PWDs.

Naturally, this means a significant number of PWDs are not in school and steps must be taken to improve their participation. In this article, I will attempt to discuss five key areas to consider to promote the education and full participation of PWDs. These include access, school environment, professional training and development, leveraging technology and providing strong parental support.

Access

Generally, Ghana has a strong record of providing access to education for children of school-going age. Interventions like the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (F-CUBE) improved access for all children.

Efforts in girls’ education have contributed to gender parity at the basic level and more recently, the introduction of the free Senior High School (fSHS) policy has greatly increased access and improved girls’ participation in SHS.

Additionally, the Right Age Enrollment Campaign has been successful in ensuring children enter school at the right age of four years. In an ever-evolving education landscape, we can draw lessons from our efforts in the past to inspire us to make our education system more inclusive and resilient for PWDs.

A focused and multi-sectoral approach to identifying special needs children must be adopted to enrol them into schools to benefit fully from education and preparation for life.

School environment

Our school environment must be accommodating to all persons regardless of their ability. The world over, there have been decades of adopting public spaces, including schools, to cater to all persons.

This strategy, usually termed universal design, ensures that people can navigate their environment with ease. Buildings are retrofitted with ramps and lifts to provide access to all areas. Walkways are levelled and without obstacles for easy movement.

Buildings, entrances and rooms have signage designed to have braille, ensuring that visually impaired persons can easily navigate. The use of sound to signal or provide instruction supports easy navigation for persons with visual impairments.

More significantly, in schools, teachers use universal design to develop lessons that support all learners, including those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Generally, having school environments that are welcoming, conducive and accommodating makes it easy for students with special needs and their families to have the confidence to enrol and attend school.

Professional training and development

There has to be a laser-sharp focus for educators to acquire competencies and specialised skills to ensure a strong future for special education. Teachers must be provided with in-depth insights into addressing the challenges faced by students with specific learning and developmental disabilities.

These trainings must transcend the usual pedagogical approaches used to train teachers for mainstream classrooms. To meet the demands of special education, teachers must be equipped with behavioural intervention techniques and inclusive teaching strategies, ensuring that they design and tailor their teaching to the unique needs of students, fostering a more adaptive and inclusive environment for learning.

Teachers need to leverage multiple avenues of gaining the needed competencies, including turning to online platforms for professional development. This can ensure that teachers are not limited by their geographical locations in acquiring skills and learning from best practices.

Leveraging technology

Personalised learning with technology can provide new and additional options and support for learning for students with special needs. In advanced societies, integrated personalised learning platforms and assistive technologies are leveraged to support students with unique needs and have tailored learning experiences.

Adaptive learning software and sometimes virtual reality tools are able to enhance the education of students with special needs.

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Within our context, especially as we have progressively inched towards integrated technologies in our schools, those technologies present great opportunities for supporting learners with special needs.

Parental support

Many times, we tend to focus on the learners, forgetting the parents. Supporting and intentionally partnering with parents means we have a unified team to provide a more complete education to the learner.

Parents are a critical piece in the special education puzzle. They have a lot to offer and their voices must be heard and considered as we deliver quality inclusive education for all. 

When strong partnership and support are available, both teachers and parents become advocates for the learner.

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Food for thought

The future of special education requires a paradigm shift towards a more holistic approach to inclusive education. We must foster social and emotional well-being in addition to the academic growth of learners.

Within our Ghanaian context, approximately one in 10 persons live with a disability. Therefore, increasing access to quality education in an environment that is welcoming, and with the right skilled educators, will ensure that a tenth of our potential workforce is prepared to participate productively in our growing economy.

The writer is the Deputy Director-General for Quality and Access at the Ghana Education Service.
Contact email: [email protected]

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