A child with special needs is known as “Akanda Omo” in the Western part of Nigeria. He or she is classified in this nomenclature due to the unique nature of his or her birth. A child with special needs usually has specific learning problem or disability that makes learning more difficult than for his or her peers.
According to wikipedia, special needs are the needs for special care, special services, or special accommodation for children with disabilities. They usually have problem with school work, challenges with communication, issues with behaviour among other issues that may not be in agreement with others, and therefore need special attention in training for them to achieve their set objectives in life. Some of the children classified under special needs may include children with hearing impairment, visual challenge, walking disability, dumbness, down syndrome, imbecility, and so on.
Findings show that most children born with these conditions are not accorded due respect in society as they are often ignored. This may worsen their health conditions and expose them to public ridicule. They often become street beggars and dropouts in the society.
An education expert, Mr. Oluwole Majekodunmi, Director of Special Needs Education in Ogun State, posited that children with special needs should be given adequate attention by sending them to formal school for proper academic training as they are teachable and capable of fulfilling their destiny.
People should refrain from using derogatory words such as “disabled” or “handicapped” to describe them, but they should be regarded with dignity and treated equally with other children. Many of them are loaded with great potentials. In Ogun State, for example, the present administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun has strategically put in place measures and policies targeted at promoting the wellbeing and wellness of children with special needs in the state. The first step the government took in this regard was the complete renovation of the five schools for Special Needs Children, namely: Daniel Akintonde Model School for Children with Special Needs, Adigbe, Abeokuta; School for Children with Special Needs, Ilaro; School for Children with Special Needs, Sagamu; School for Children with Special Needs, Ijebu-Ode; Ade-Okubanjo Model School for the Visually Challenged, Ijebu-Igbo.
There is no argument about the efforts of other governors at promoting the well-being of children with special needs in their various states, but recent reports revealed that Governor Abiodun’s policy was extra ordinary with massive transformation projects ranging from provision of standard accommodation, training in skill acquisition, provision of reading and tools among others for their well-being, in line with the inclusive Education Policy of the Federal Government.
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As a matter of fact, it was discovered that, before the inception of the present administration, all the Special Needs Schools were neglected and this led to system collapse with manifestation of challenges such as poor feeding condition, poor accommodation, low provision of assistive devices, to mention but few. Within two and half years of inception of the present administration, they have recorded great improvement in the learners’ welfare as they now enjoy a conducive atmosphere for learning and better living.
In pursuance of the policy targeted at creating a dignified life for children with special needs, Governor Abiodun re-established the Ogun State Braille Book Production Centre within two years of his administration to enhance the academic skills and human capacity of visually impaired learners. This was a centre that was established about 15 years ago but could not produce a single book. At the moment, the Braille Book Production Centre has been recalibrated and is serving to provide literacy education for the visually impaired, production of textbooks for learners, equipping school and public libraries for reading and consultations. The center is also being used for Braille Book Production, printing of Unified Examination Questions for visually impaired learners, provision of Braille materials for private schools, and provision of consulting services on Braille materials to private individuals. The centre has also produced Braille textbooks for the visually impaired learners in the primary and secondary schools in the state.
In addition to this, the State government also donated 34 White Canes (walking sticks) to aid the mobility of students with visual impairment and collaborated with Christoffel Blind Mission in the years 2019 and 2020 to conduct free eye surgeries, treatment and provide eye glasses for learners with different vision challenges in all the 20 Local Government Areas of the State so as to make their academic lives more impactful.
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A report revealed that the Governor graciously approved the purchase and distribution of a total of fifty-five (55) wheel chairs to learners with limb challenges across the State due to his recognition of the need for inclusive education in the lives of people living with disabilities. This kind gesture aided their independence in mobility and promoted their full confidence in society. And in January 2021, Governor Abiodun approved a 50 percent increase in feeding allowances for learners in Special Needs Schools to improve their well-being and ease their feeding expenses.
A visit to some of these schools revealed the ongoing massive infrastructural development such as; renovation of boys’ and girls’ hostels, supply of mattresses, construction of modern toilets, construction of modern kitchens, construction and reconstruction of perimeter fencing, renovation and construction of classrooms, supply of kitchen utensils and many more across the Senatorial Districts of the State. In ensuring perfection, the State government further released a total sum of Twenty Five Million Naira (N25,000,000.00), to build more classrooms, rehabilitate existing ones, buy more chairs and tables, provide more toilet facilities, establish Information and Communication Technology rooms, provide more electronic interactive boards and renovate and construct more staff quarters with befitting furniture.
In addition, the State government, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Ogun State included skill and vocational acquisition training in the curriculum of the special needs schools where students would be trained in different trade subjects such as; beads making, sewing, hair dressing, leather works and music to make them self-reliant, independent and employers of labour.
The efforts of the present administration in improving the well-being of children with special needs have been commended for bringing great relief to the affected families with special needs children. Findings showed that enrolment has doubled in most of these schools, unlike in the past. Even with the plausible step being taken by the State government in promoting their wellness through the commencement of sporting competitions in various schools. Experts say that Sporting activities, if well implemented, will expose special needs learners to various sporting activities in their schools. It will help discover new talents in them, build their self esteem and expose them to other sources of livelihood that may qualify them as future representatives, not only of the State but also at the National and International Paralympic games.
In line with the “Building Our Future Together” mantra of the present administration in Ogun State, it was made known that many stakeholders and spirited citizens, both at home and in diaspora, have been inspired to extend their hands of love to children with special needs by collaborating with the state government to impact lives . One of the kind gestures of well-meaning citizens of the State was the donation of a Sienna mini van to Special Needs School, Ijebu-Ode, by the Omo Obanta Association in the US. A gift facilitated by the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Abayomi Arigbabu, while still serving as Vice Chancellor, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun. Others with like minds were: Egbe Jagunmolu Okunrin Fehintade Akile Ijebu-Ode that sponsored the renovation of toilets, boys’ hostels, three blocks of classrooms, and supplied dining utensils to the school, among others.
Be that as it may, let us join hands with the present administration in its determination to improve the wellness of children with special needs in our society. This support will go a long way not only in sustaining the academic standard known with the state, but also open a new chapter of exemplary leadership amongst its peers across the country for providing dignified life and rekindling hope for special needs children in Ogun State.
Obadimu is the Press Officer, Ogun State Ministry of Education Science & Technology.