Basic Education for Students with Learning Disabilities
As at 2014 universal public education and key statistics in Nigeria revealed that there are a total number of 62,406 public primary schools in Nigeria but sadly of that number none cater to the needs of students with learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities are problems that affect the brain’s ability to receive process, analyze or store information, which makes it difficult for pupils to learn as quickly as their peers who aren’t affected by it. Nearly 4 million school aged children and teens have learning disabilities, at least 20% have disorders that hinder their focus on school related activities.
Unfortunately, awareness of learning disabilities is only starting to gain momentum in Nigeria; due to high cultural and superstitious beliefs inherent in Nigeria learning disabilities are associated with supernatural factors such as Jinn and voodoo. Negative societal perception as well as ignorance on the subject of learning disabilities hinders early identification of the problem to the detriment of the child. In most cases when a child starts showing symptoms of LD teachers tend to tag him/her as a “slow learner”. Also some parents for fear of the stigma associated with having special needs children tend to wear rose colored glasses when it comes to their child’s condition. The society sees the child having trouble learning in school and shrugs it off saying “the child is dumb”.
Such was the case with a cute sweet girl named Helena. Helena is 10 years old but she has a lot of trouble writing any alphabet or numbers. When it comes to memorization and recitation Helena is always among the best but she just can’t write. This caused a lot of difficulties for her; she was punished by her teachers and ridiculed by her classmates on a daily basis. She couldn’t copy the notes the teachers wrote on the board and she failed every written exam because her writing is so bad none of her teachers could comprehend it, She was constantly struggling which caused her to hate going to school, Her parents were always ashamed to face her teachers who constantly called them to complain about how dull Helena is and how she couldn’t pay enough attention in class which they believe is why she couldn’t “get” what they are teaching her until finally the school decided to expel Helena from their school as they just didn’t know what to do with her anymore.
That was the last straw for Helena’s parents; they decided to just keep their daughter at home instead of enrolling her in another school. When asked why Helena’s mother replied “What else do you want us to do, the girl hates school, she doesn’t want to learn, we are tired of wasting our hard earned money on her its better if she just stays at home and help me with the chores”. I asked Helena’s father if he has ever considered the possibility that Helena might be suffering from a learning disability To which he replied “abeg don’t cast evil on my daughter, my daughter doesn’t have any disability woo she is just dull”
Unfortunately, such scenarios are highly common in Nigeria as a lot of people lack awareness of what learning disabilities entail which causes a lot of children to suffer as they are left out of school.
What is learning disability?
A learning disability is a neurological disorder; it results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is “wired”. Children with learning disabilities are as smart as or even smarter than their peers but they might have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and organizing information if left to figure things out themselves if taught in conventional ways.
Difficulty with basic reading and language skills is the most common form of learning disabilities as many as 80% of students with learning disabilities have reading problems. Learning disabilities should not be confused with other disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, autism, deafness, blindness and behavioral disorders.
Common Learning Disabilities:
DYSLEXIA: this is a language based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It may also be referred to as a reading disorder
DYSCALCULIA: a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping mathematic concepts
DYSGRAPHIA: a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or writ within a defined space
AUDITORY&VISUAL PROCESSING DISORDER: sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.
NON-VERBAL LEARNING DISABILITIES: a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing function.
ADHD: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder has affected more than 6.4 million children at some point. There is some debate as to whether or not ADHD is a learning disability; in the most technical sense it is considered a learning disability. Students with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and staying on task. These students can easily be distracted and often have difficulty in traditional school settings. Unlike typical learning disabilities which need instructional intervention ADHD can be successfully treated with medications and behavioral therapies.
Educational provisions for children with learning disabilities in Nigeria:
The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) asserted the principle of non-discrimination and proclaimed that everyone has a right to education. There is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) with the core principles of non-discrimination, devotion to the best interest of the child, the right to life, survival and development as well as respect for the views of the child. There is also the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with disability (1993) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disability. However, the UNESCO Salamanca Statement on Inclusive Education (1994) was the first to directly and pointedly address the issue of Inclusive Education. It affirms the right to education of every individual, the right of special education children to receive whatever support they may require to ensure their effective education.
Inclusive education simply means “schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions”. This program allows the student to remain in the regular education classroom setting at all time; it is set to meet need of educating students in the regular classroom while still providing for their unique needs. Full inclusion is described as placing all students, regardless of disabilities and severity, in the regular classroom on a full-time basis. These students do not leave the regular classroom for services specified for their needs but these services are delivered to them in the regular classroom setting. A special education teacher collaborates with a general education teacher to provide services for students. The general education teacher is responsible for instructing all children, even those with a learning disability while The special education teacher collaborates with the general teacher on strategies, The special education teacher brings materials into the classroom and works with the special student during math or reading instruction, Both teachers must consider which placement constitutes the least restrictive environment for the child based on individual needs, Inclusive education allows children with special needs to receive a free and appropriate education along with non-disabled students in the regular classroom.
Inclusive education is indeed an expensive method to practice, it involves employing extra special education teachers as well as other equipments and material a child with learning disabilities might need and because when it comes to learning disabilities no two cases are the same every child’s needs are different it takes a lot of manpower to run an inclusive school Which is probably why most states tend to disregards the need for such schools. Also there are a limited number of special education teachers readily available to run all Public schools as inclusive education schools. According to Nigeria universities commission (NUC2018) there are 165 approved universities in Nigeria, of that number only 7 universities in Nigeria offer special education as a course.
Inclusive education in Lagos state:
Lagos state is considered to be the largest city in Africa; it is a very populous state as well as a hub of people from all over the nation. In terms of education Lagos state has 1001 primary school and 339 junior secondary schools but of that number only 38 are inclusive education schools.
Lagos state enacted a special peoples law in June 2011 in which the term ‘disability’ was clearly defined in section 33 “in this law, except where expressly provided otherwise; “disability” means a state of substantial impairment of the physical, visual, vocal, auditory,sensoryor mental capabilities of a person at birth or by injury, sickness or its effect or congenital deficiency.
Section 28(3) states “all schools whether pre-primary, primary, secondary or tertiary shall be run to be accessible to persons with disability. Subsection (4) of the same law also stated “in accordance with subsection 3 every school shall have (a) at least a trained personnel to cater for the educational development of persons living with disability (b) a program for continued training of persons living with disability (C) special facilities for the effective education of persons living with disability.
Lagos state office for disability affairs (LASODA) was inaugurated by former governor of Lagos state Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola on the 9th of July 2012 in accordance with the Lagos state special people’s law and charged with the responsibility of executing the provisions of the law. It is the responsibility of this office to ensure all the provisions of the law are being carried out with regards to education.
Following finding out the inadequate number of inclusive schools in Lagos the reporter interviewed Mr. Ademiluyi A.A the asst.chief executive officer public affairs LASODA. He revealed that the inclusive education program is still a fairly new endeavor which is why the number of schools practicing it in the state is minimal. When asked if the office has a statistics of the number of children with learning disability in the state or any estimate of the number of such children that are out of school as a result of lack of access to inclusive education school. He answered “ I doubt the statistic office of Lasoda have collected such data regarding the number of children with learning disability in school but am sure just because we don’t have it doesn’t mean the government doesn’t have it”.
If the office responsible for disability affairs doesn’t have accurate statistics of the students with learning disability in the state how do we expect the education provisions of the Lagos state special people law to be implemented.
Some of the other challenges schools are facing when it comes to the implementation of inclusive education include; inadequate plan for identification of children with special learning disability, the inclusive schools are located in urban area so the people in the rural areas won’t have access to such schools, parents of children with LD lack adequate information and guidance on the available special education service, lack of adequate provision for the maintenance of the inclusive education centers by the government. In adequate number of teachers trained to handle children with LD as well as lack of awareness of the dynamic nature of LD by general education teachers. The government also has no definite strategy to search for and identify children that are not attending school as a result of their disability.
What should be done?
Having a learning disability doesn’t necessarily mean a child has lost his ability to learn. Most learning disabilities are incurable but they are manageable when symptoms are identified early and the necessary steps are taken to provide the child with an appropriate learning environment suitable to his condition. A child with learning disability needs to be provided with the facilities he needs as well as understanding, love, support, care and acceptance because children are really impressionable as such when he is ridiculed for his condition it leads to the child having a low self esteem and a low opinion of himself which will affect his progress.
For the future of this children to be secure the Lagos state government must make haste to ensure that a proper framework is put in place so that the student with learning disabilities are able to achieve their highest potential research has shown that children with learning disability are smarter than their peers and most of them have some hidden talent if the proper steps are not taken a lot of their potential will be wasted. Adequate statistic of the number of children with learning disability must be made available. All teachers must be trained to identify the signs that indicate a child might have a learning disability so that treatment can start and alternative learning arrangements can be made to suit his need.
A learning disability can’t be cured it is a lifelong issue but with the right support and intervention a child can succeed in school and go on to have a successful and distinguished career in life. Parents can help by encouraging the child, knowing their weakness, understanding the educational system, working with the teachers and learning the strategies for dealing with specific difficulties the child might be facing.