INTERVIEW: Why Nigeria should scrap special schools for disabled – Founder, Albino Foundation

[PHOTO: epellejake.albinofoundation.org ]
[PHOTO: epellejake.albinofoundation.org ]

Jake Epelle, founder of the Albino Foundation of Nigeria, is calling on the Nigeria government to create an environment for the education of vulnerable groups.

He campaigns for the improved conditions for marginalized groups, particularly albinos and the disabled. He was at the August 29, 2016 unveiling of Strategic Planning for the Education Sector by the minister, Adamu Adamu.

He was appointed the Chairman of the Inclusive Education group, one of the 11 focal groups the ministry intends to focus on in repositioning the sector.

Mr. Epelle told PREMIUM TIMES’s Omono Okonkwo that the government should embrace inclusive education by scrapping special schools, which he said caused alienation of vulnerable groups.

Excerpts:

PREMIUM TIMES: Tell us what you do and how you became chairman of the inclusive Education focal group.

Jake Epelle: I am the chief executive officer and founder of the Albino Foundation. I was hired as a consultant by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Federal Ministry of Education to map out key challenges and strategies. These will aid in developing inclusive education so all Nigerians, regardless of their physical, mental and social abilities/inabilities, can come together to acquire education.

I didn’t do this alone but with a very wonderful team. Together, we were able to assemble a document which has been adjudged one of the best policy documents within the education sector.

PT: Who adjudged this document as one of the best?

Jake Epelle: The Ministry of Education and the DFID. These are very high-level organisations. The fact that I submitted and it was approved means that I met all the necessary criteria.

PT: Will this document be used by the federal government in the strategic planning as unveiled by the education minister on August 29?

Jake Epelle: Yes, the document is a part and parcel of it. During the panel sitting after the minister had unveiled all focal groups, I brought up the issue that adult literacy and inclusive education needed to be separated. The two have different challenges and strategies.

The head of the secretariat, Federal Ministry of Education, created a whole department for it. It is relevant, it is needed and it is also timely. The world is adopting inclusive education and Nigeria should not lag behind.

PT: What is your position on where Nigeria currently is as regards education; what is lacking in the sector?

Jake Epelle: We have lack of coherent, cohesive policy, lack of implementation, lack of political will on the part of leaders to implement the wonderful policies drawn up for the growth of the sector. Corruption is also a major problem, monies are allocated to the sector and some people pocket the money.

We also have dilapidated infrastructure and in some cases, no infrastructure at all; children are still studying under trees, weak buildings, make-shift wooden and aluminium buildings.

On my journey around the country, I discovered that many girls, especially in the North are not in school due to lack of toilets. This is a major contributing factor to the huge demography we have for out of school children (10.5 million).

Lack of funding is a major problem, sometimes the money that is voted is not enough to meet needs, other times the money that is voted is pocketed by individuals. There is also the problem of unqualified teachers and in some cases, there are no teachers at all.

We also lack human capital development (capacity building) for teachers who ought to know what to teach; teaching materials are not readily available as well. Sometimes, wrong curriculum is a problem and in other cases, there is no curriculum at all.

Other times, having people who are not qualified as administrators of the education sector is also a problem on its own. On some levels, the education stakeholders are not properly sensitized, especially at the community level, so they do not even know what to do.

At the same time, this country needs to recognize lack of proper education as a human rights issue. Education is the right of everyone (children and adults).

I think if we embrace inclusive education in its robust nature, we will solve the general problems of education in the country. This is because inclusive education embraces all persons.

PT: If the government does approve inclusive education for all schools in the country, what will happen to special schools (schools for the blind, disabled, etc)?

Jake Epelle: To make inclusive education even more effective in Nigeria, there is a need to shut down, although strategically, the so-called special schools because they are not making any positive impact in the society. You put all the blind together, they go to school, come out and they feel segregated and alienated from the society; we have not made any impact.

PT: What you are saying is that all socially, psychologically and physically challenged students should be incorporated into regular schools?

Jake Epelle: Oh yes. A lot of countries no longer use the special education system because it has not helped at all. In fact, there is a United Nations charter and call for all countries to embrace inclusive education; it brings everybody into one learning environment. This gives them a sense of belonging – the albinos, the physically challenged, even the girl-child in one classroom. The problem here however is we do not have many qualified teachers for this but we can train them.

We can do this through getting into colleges of education and engaging teachers with relevant information technology and materials for them to work with, so that they can come out and be inclusive teachers. Everything is going inclusive – inclusive communities, financing and education.

PT: Speaking of students who fall into the vulnerable groups’ category, how do you think the government can encourage them to access proper education?

Jake Epelle: It is high time the federal government began to think of a free education programme for all vulnerable groups in the country; particularly albinos and the physically challenged individuals at all levels.

This is because 40 per cent of the very poor in our society are traceable to these marginalized and underserved groups. With education, success, confidence, empowerment and knowledge are inevitable and with these come financial freedom.

PT: What can parents and guardians do to ensure their children willingly embrace a proper education? It seems these days young ones are more interested in making fast money than being in a classroom.

JE: Sensitization is the way to go. From a young age, parents and guardians ought to show their children that embracing education is the best way for them to make positive impression on their society.

One of the ways to do this is imbibing reading culture in them. Even the parents need sensitization every now and then on how important education is.

PT: Thank you for your time, Sir.

JE: It is my pleasure.

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