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Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh, Minister of Education
Dr Matthew Opoku-Prempeh, Minister of Education

School Reopening, Children with Special Needs and Matters arising

The announcement by President Akufo-Addo to reopen schools on 15th of January, 2021 was received with mixed feelings.

A day after the announcement, I monitored on social media platforms, some parents expressing excitement that the children were going back to school after staying home for nine months, some said the children were mingling with other children anyway and it didn’t make sense to continue to keep the children at home.

Others raised skepticism, how were children especially those at the crèche level going to follow the safety protocols and ensure social distancing among the many questions that filled the thoughts of every concerned parents.

However, for some parents of children with special needs due to disability, the announcement did not make any difference, they have always been home, COVID or not.

In Ghana we have not paid much attention to children with disabilities, sometimes, we behave as if they did not exist and many of our social policies do not directly include children with special needs or disability.

At a time, when it seems that schools are scrambling for pupils and students, children with disabilities are conspicuously left behind. Where should their parents take them to?

Akosua (Not the real name) a mother of a four-year-old with cerebral palsy reached out to me, when I shared the flyer of an Inclusive school advertising for students.

  “Aunty Hannah is this school real” she said amidst tears, “oooh, I really hope that they can accept my child, I am a professional nurse, now, my in-charge, is even getting angry with me. I go to work with my four-year-old strapped at my back, can you imagine?

“I wish there were facilities or schools that accepts children with disabilities, in fact boarding facilities to enable me work and continue taking care of my son,” I sensed a lot of desperation in her voice.

Akosua’s situation is not unique, a lot of parents of children with disability can totally identify with her story. You should have a lot of money to be able to send a child with disability to school.

Parents are usually charged three times the amount you will pay for a regular child. The schools that are charitable enough to accept a child with special needs, some of them will require that you pay extra, you pay for caregiver services, you pay for other services and you pay for the services of a classroom assistant.

That is even if you are lucky for your child to be accepted. Ordinarily, schools, especially private schools will just flip you off with a simple excuse that “we do not have the facilities to cater for this child”.

Usually if they are unwilling, no amount of persuasion or help a parent offers are listened to, let alone accepted by a school.

It seems that, at a time when many Countries are working towards Inclusive Development, Ghana is leaving behind children with disability or special educational needs.

The Special Mothers Project, an advocacy and awareness creation programme of cerebral palsy issues and issues affecting families raising children with disability is calling on the government to pay attention to Inclusive Development Policies.

One of the suggestions by the Special Mothers Project is that government introduces an employment scheme at the National Service level where students who go to the university to study Rehabilitation and Disability studies are engaged to work with these children

Every government school can have an Inclusive unit where with the support of the National Council on Persons with Disability and parents, these students can have practical training on what they have learnt at school.

Caregiving is a professional job, it is not menial, it requires a lot of empathy, kindness and humanity to work as a caregiver, however, many parents of children with disability, given their situation will not be able to employ a “Professional caregiver”

We cannot continue to act blind to the situation of children with disabilities in Ghana, we have got to get to a point where schools, especially private schools will scramble over children with special educational needs to be admitted into their schools.

It is possible! but it requires policy, inclusive working policies, that ensures the welfare of children with disability and their families at the centre of it.

By Hannah Awadzi

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