By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
It is a well known fact thatÂ the education of the special needs students has not been receiving its due attention in Nigeria.
Thus, the vast majority of youths with various types of disabilities remain at home or on the streets because the nationâ€™s schools do not cater for them.
Yet, before the targets of Education For All and Millennium Development Goals can be met by 2020 all students, regardless of their developmental levels, disability, social background, ethnicity, gender and or legal confinement must be included in what is available to other pupils/students of their age.
Promotion of access and equity in the nationâ€™s education system has thus become a top priority of government and the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council has actually been tackling this challenge.
Having successfully developed the basic education curricula for the 20 subjects, it has also adapted these curricula for special needs children including the resource-based curricula, especially for children with visual impairment.
In its efforts toward promoting inclusive education in the country, NERDC has also standardized Nigerian sign language for children with hearing impairment to access the same basic education curricula.
The public presentation of research report on opportunities for inclusive education in primary and junior secondary school education in Abuja last week is yet another move by the Professor Godswill Obioma-led NERDC to bring to reality the vision of Jomtiem declaration, one of which is universalizing access and promoting equity.
And many stakeholders of education have given the parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Education kudos for this latest accomplishment. According to the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, Prof A.M Nwokocha, the presentation of the research report by NERDC is highly commendable as the findings are expected to address the issue of children with unique learning needs, based on their disabilities.
He said: â€œI have been wondering why our children with special learnings needs such as those having cognitive impairments, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, sensory impairments, emotional problems and chronic health problems are kept in isolation.
There is no need keeping the children in secluded environment. I want the Nigerian public, educators and the government to take the contents of the research effort very seriously.â€
The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Julius Okogie also commended NERDC for employing research method in ensuring an effective implementation of new policies being rolled out by the Federal Ministry of Education.
Okogie, who was represented Dr. A.O. Adesina, said: â€œThe council has been living to its billing. Your efforts at subjecting governmentâ€™s plan of action to research assure us that whatever policies that come out eventually will be informed ones as they are based on empirical evidence rather than mere conjecture.
The copious recommendations and suggestions in the research reports are meant to widen access to secondary education and the NUC, on its part, will also buckle up in expanding spaces in our universities so that the large number of secondary school products to be turned out will have access to university education.â€
The Director-General of the National Mathematical Centre, Prof. Sam Ale said the research effortÂ speaks volume of the scientific approach being employed by NERDC in solving the nationâ€™s education problems.
Represented by Prof. L.O. Adetula, Ale said: â€œThe NERDC is living to expectation because in most cases people just jump to an idea or proposal without looking at from scientific point of view. Prof. Obioma is a dynamic and hardworking leader.â€
At the epoch-making event were also delegates from the West African Examinations Council, National Board for Technical Education, National Business and Technical Examinations Board, Universal Basic Education, FCT and from other relevant bodies all of whom unanimouslyÂ expressed their optimism about the value which the research report will add to the development of the nationâ€™s education sector.
Words of commendation for the leadership of NERDC also came from the Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu.
The results of the research into opportunities for inclusive education at the basic education level, says Egwu, will provide strong building blocks to promote access and equity, adding that the research is important because inclusive education is acclaimed worldwide as an instrument modelÂ for universalizing education for all children including those with special needs.
The research, which was undertaken by Prof. Gabriel Unachukwu, Prof. Emeka Ozoji and Prof. Ike Ifelunni, came up with a number of recommendations for promoting access and equity in education, such as mounting of intensive awareness programme on inclusive education, need for government to adopt a more pragmatic step of ensuring policy implementation, the necessity of developing a unique and adequate curriculum that will be of benefit to all the children with special needs amongst others.