THE educational programme for special needs children has changed over the last two decades in Nigeria. Professionals working with these children need to keep up with their professional counterparts oversees. Countries like the UK, USA and Canada use specialised ways of disseminating information and knowledge to the disabled. This form of education allows the disabled child to join his or colleagues in the regular classroom, making him or her feel free among his/her counterparts. The Federal Governments in its policy on education (1977, revised 1981) adopted inclusive education to replace segregation. Michigan(1991) sees inclusive education as the provision of educational services for students with disabilities in school which non-handicapped peers attend, in age appropriated, general education classes directly supervised by general education teachers with special education support and assistance as determined appropriate through the individual educational planning committee (IEPC).
Ajuwon (2012) says that inclusive education is a process of enhancing the capacity of the educational system in any country to reach diverse learners. He adds that the basis of inclusion is that special needs pupils have a right to the benefits of a full school experience, with needed modifications and support alongside their peers without disabilities who receive general education. Allen and Schwartze (2000) say that inclusive education means that all students are welcome by their neighborhood schools in the appropriate age into regular class and are supported to learn, to contribute and participate in all aspects of life in the school. The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2009) gave an all-encompassing definition of inclusive education: a process of transforming schools and other centers of learning to accommodate all learners, including boys and girls, learners from ethnic and linguistic minorities, rural populations those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, those with disabilities and difficulties in learning, providing opportunities for all.
Garuba (2003) says Nigeria and most countries of Africa are still grappling with making provisions for children with special needs, even on mainstreaming basics, thereby making inclusive education a challenge. There are challenges facing the implementing of inclusive education in Nigeria due to our orientation and disposition towards special needs children. The myth surrounding the birth of a special needs child sometimes causes negative attitudes from parents and pupils that are not disabled. A lot of these special needs children are discriminated against by the society at large: by not wanting them to mix up with regular children in the classroom, thereby stigmatizing them, and saying they are being punished by the “gods” because of their parents or forefathers’ wrongdoing. The findings of this study are supported by foundation for people with leaving disabilities (2005) This is in agreement with Ugowu (2012) that some parents and members of the society have negative attitudes towards the special needs children.
Inadequate funding by the Federal Government is another factor militating against inclusive education. The 2019 budget for education in Nigeria is N620.5bn against the UNESCO advice. It is below the 15 per cent to 20 per cent minimum recommended for developing countries by UNESCO (Punch, Jan 4 2019). Biodun Ogunyemi (2019) told the Punch that the ruling class in Nigeria does not prioritise education. The funding by the Federal Government for regular schools is not enough, not to talk of inclusive education which requires special skills, infrastructure and instructional materials. Cortiella (2009) asserts that a major constraint is serious shortage of educational resources, inadequate facilities and modern teaching materials.
In a country where this form of education is practised, the use of professional staff and special skills like sign language, the ability to read Braille and other forms of special skills will be needed. But in Nigeria, a lot of parents and students do not find teaching lucrative. Everybody wants to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Wiles and Bondi (2011) state that inclusive education involves keeping special students in regular classrooms and making support service available to them, rather them leaving them without support services. The blind need escort that will take them from one place to another and the lame, even though on wheelchair, still need someone to push them around because most of the school structures in Nigeria make mobility difficult for these special needs pupils and students. All these essential services are not adequately provided for in the regular classroom, whether in primary, secondary or tertiary institutions. Inclusive education stemmed from various world seminars, conferences and workshops which were warmly embraced in Nigeria in the Universal Basic Education blueprint. This blueprint does not only consider the able-bodied children but also disabled children. Finding permanent solutions to the challenges will go a long way in removing differences between disabled and able-bodied children. The special needs child will be accepted in the society and will not be stigmatised or become an outcast, living in seclusion.
- Ilo lives in Ibadan