By Cosmas Okoli
Socially, it is nearly impossible for disabled children and children without disabilities to socialize.
There is hardly any forum or platform for this interaction to take place. Diverse socio-economic circumstances of parents have put paid to this interaction. Our school system is segregationist in nature given that these children attend separate schools.
They are denied social interactions because society and our school system has erected an unnatural barrier to separate them. Early childhood educators have ascertained that the school environment is the ideal place for children with and without disabilities to interact naturally.
This has led to the new trend in inclusive education worldwide. Unfortunately, this system has not taken a foothold in Nigeria.
This idea evokes an advice an English Physiotherapist Mrs. Gudrun Agunwa, may her soul rest in peace, gave my father nearly 40 years ago; after I underwent a two- year stint at a rehabilitation centre run by the Salvation Army. She advised my father that I should be enrolled in a conventional school for the rest of my academic career. My father took her advice. This course of events played a pivotal role in my educational career.
The need for a platform for children with and without disabilities to socialize outside of the school system informed the introduction of the MAARDEC’s Novel Children’s Day Celebration.
This event was initiated by my organization, MAARDEC, in 2010. It was also held in 2011 and 2012. At this forum, children with and without disabilities interact while playing and having a good time; in the presence of parents and teachers.
The driving force behind this party is the growing need to promote the spirit of inclusion in our society.
It is our belief, and one backed by the research of early childhood educators, that the earlier children without disabilities begin to socialize with disabled children, the earlier they discover that little or no difference exist between them, and they will grow with informed opinions about disabled people. This is against the usual prejudicial stereotypes perpetuated by past generations.
You will agree with me that the best and greatest teachers in the world are parents. I call on all parents to continue in this tradition, which they inherited from their own parents.
This teaching is not by word of mouth alone, but also by what we do. I am sure most readers are aware of how sensitive and observant children are, and their uncanny ability of learning by doing.
For example, if as a parent one exhibits a negative attitude towards children or people with disabilities, chances are that one’s children will pick up this attitude and probably grow up with it. It is therefore in our best interest as parents to bring up our children to emulate the right and proper attitudes to adopt while interacting with persons with disabilities.
Our educational system alone cannot provide this attitudinal change. It must begin at home.
There are few if any schools in Nigeria where children with and without disabilities attend school together. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to discover about 4 years ago that the Lagos State Government was a leading light in promoting inclusive education in Nigeria.
There are about 30 designated schools in the state where children with and without disabilities attend school together. For this, I doff my hat to the Lagos State Government. Our Novel Children’s Day Celebration is a yearly affair we intend to sustain. The 4th edition comes up in May 2013.
It will coincide with the Children’s Day holidays. We are profoundly grateful to the partners that have kept the faith with their support: Banex Group, Crusader Insurance Plc., MTN Nigeria Foundation, UAC Foods, Beloxxi Foods, Nigeria Bottling Company, Viju Industries Ltd, Consolidated Breweries, Promadsidor Industries Ltd, Citiserve, Classique Beverages Nigeria Ltd, Newage Industries, Stacy Philips Ltd., May and Baker , Deli Foods, Mr & Mrs.Brisibie and Adorable Ladies Club.