Inclusive education — the practice of educating children of all abilities in one classroom — is the gold standard. Many schools, however, still have classrooms where children with disabilities are educated separately from the rest of the student population. Nigeria is lagging behind on inclusive education, while most advanced economies are moving ahead. Many students with special educational needs are not getting the support they require and deserve.
The benefits of inclusive education are well documented, not least because it imparts to all children the importance of empathy and acceptance, while enabling those with disabilities to form a positive sense of self. An inclusive classroom exposes children to communication with different groups, which trains them in multiple modes of expression and understanding. These are important skills in this age of globalisation, where cross-cultural competence is vital.
In short, with the right support, children learn better together. In adulthood, they will be more likely to embrace diversity, respect differences and fight for equality, not only for themselves but also for others. This is the foundation we need to foster a truly inclusive society.
Yet, despite these obvious gains, support measures to promote inclusive education remain woefully inadequate in this city. Given the current situation, this will be one of our priority areas over the next few years.
More must be done. Access to quality education for all is fundamental to Nigeria’s competitiveness. Our children who are not able to adapt to the mainstream system should be given support according to their individual needs. Otherwise, the barriers they face will affect their ability to participate in society later in life, including in higher education and employment.
For students with learning disabilities, this must begin with early assessment, which specialists and professionals agree is crucial to provide timely intervention.
We recommend that assessments should be taken at the pre-school level, to enable early identification of a child’s specific requirements, which is why access to early childhood education is so vital, particularly for children with special learning needs.
A detailed assessment report should be made available to the parents, school and relevant experts. Parents and carers can use the information to better understand the child’s developmental needs and equip themselves to address such needs at home, as well as share their experiences and work closely with professionals on holistic support measures and strategies.
The report can also help to ensure a seamless transition between pre-school, kindergarten and primary school, whereby children with special educational needs can continue to receive appropriate services and assistance. Above all, any education policy should take the diverse needs of students into consideration.
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