Home Features Gannaway-Hudson’s Speech at the launching of OSF Scholarship Scheme for Deaf Students

Gannaway-Hudson’s Speech at the launching of OSF Scholarship Scheme for Deaf Students

by Inclusive News Network
Executive Vice-President, Our Children’s Homestead, United States

Towards an inclusive Education Model for Academic Excellence

By Gannaway-Hudson

Greetings to all attendees and welcome to the official launch of the Opeoluwa Sotonwa Foundation (OSF) Scholarship Scheme for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions. I am deeply honored and humbled to be the keynote speaker for such a momentous occasion. I would first like to give thanks to the founder of the Foundation, Chief Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa. Secondly, I would like to thank our sponsors, The University of Ilorin and the Disability Law and Advocacy Project for making this day possible.

I stand before you today not only as a Human Resource Administrative Professional and Social Worker within the field of Child Welfare, but also as a former educator of college students to advocate for change, coupled with my belief in the transformative power of education partially due to my own personal experiences, as well as my whole-hearted belief that inclusivity and belonging within any societies education system and/or model is not merely a scholarly pursuit, but is an imperative investment in the future and most importantly, the sustainability of all societies as a whole.

When I was informed I would be speaking about working towards an inclusive education model for academic excellence, I purposely honed in on the word inclusion and came to the understanding that inclusion is not merely a buzzword, and certainly transcends diversity in that its fundamental principle defines the essence of being just and equitable in addition to not excluding any of the parties or groups involved in something.

With this definition applied within an educational setting, it embodies the idea that every individual, regardless of their background, abilities, or circumstances, has the right to access a quality education and not merely have “a seat in the classroom or lecture hall.” Yet, even with this word appearing in many educational institutions’ mission, vision, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion proclamations, we continue to live in a world where globally, there are between 93 and 150 million children living with a disability – most importantly – over 32 million of these children are not attending school. This number is alarming, especially when considering that children with disabilities are often more vulnerable to marginalization. (The Learning Generation | the Education Commission Report. (2016).

A 2021 UNICEF report using internationally comparable data from 42 countries and covering more than 60 indicators of child well-being makes clear the barriers children with disabilities face in participating fully within their societies and how this often translates to negative health and social outcomes.

Compared to children without disabilities, children with disabilities are:

  • 42 percent less likely to have foundational reading and numerical skills;
  • 49 percent more likely to have never attended school;
  • 47 percent more likely to be out of primary school, with 33 percent more likely to be out of lower-secondary school and 27 percent more likely to be out of upper secondary school;

These children are also:

  • 51 percent more likely to feel unhappy; and
  • 41 percent more likely to feel discriminated against; (UNICEF, New York, 2021)

Even with these statistics, the disability experience amongst these individuals vary greatly. The analysis demonstrates there are a spectrum of risks and outcomes depending on the type of disability, where the individual resides, and what services they are able to access. This highlights the importance of designing specialized and targeted solutions to address these inequities.

To our students in the audience who are also our future leaders of tomorrow, imagine if your school was responsible for providing you with shoes and clothing and everyone received the same size regardless of their actual size. Let’s go a step further and imagine the same school was responsible for feeding you, yet it offered only one type of meal, irrespective of your allergies or cultural background. These hypothetical situations, although seemingly exaggerated, draw a parallel with the existing flaws in our educational system when a one-size-fits-all approach is applied.

To our esteemed sponsors who have graciously committed their resources to the advancement of education – when we talk about investments in education, we’re essentially talking about investing in our collective future—a future that is undeniably diverse and multifaceted. To you, I extend a heartfelt invitation to reflect upon and reconsider the profound impact your contributions can make. We find ourselves at a pivotal moment, where the investments we channel today will shape the landscape of education and, consequently, our collective futures tomorrow.

For the law professors in our midst, ponder over the potential legal challenges and human right issues sprouting from non-inclusive educational settings. Discrimination, lack of accessibility, and unequal opportunities are not just ethical concerns but can also have profound legal implications to which you all have or may litigate in the future.

To address working toward an inclusive educational model, I will first review the current traditional model along with the consequences of exclusion and then move into what a truly inclusive educational model would entail.

The Traditional Education Model

The traditional education model has been the bedrock of our system for years. It’s characterized by its lecture-centric approach, its reliance on standardized testing, and a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Tracing back its roots, we understand this system was designed during a time when populations were less diverse and the population in general were less educated of the different needs of student learners. (Mosweunyane, D., 2013)

This approach leaves little room for individual learning styles and needs, operating under the assumption that all students absorb information the same way. The lack of curriculum diversity results in a narrow range of perspectives presented in course materials, which sidelines the experiences and histories of marginalized communities. This model is no longer sustainable or effective in our diverse and dynamic world, necessitating an urgent and transformative change.

The Consequences of Exclusion

When we examine the consequences of exclusion, the most affected are indigent students and students with disabilities. The correlation between non-inclusive educational practices and higher drop-out rates is undeniable, as these students often find themselves disengaged and unsupported.

The long-term societal and economic repercussions of this are immense, due to failing to utilize the potential of all our students. This exclusion in education perpetuates inequality, creating a ripple effect throughout society, which reinforces and exacerbates` existing disparities.

The Inclusive Education Model

On the opposite side of exclusion, an Inclusive education model is one where every student feels valued and has their needs recognized and met. An inclusive education model has statistically proven to lead to higher academic achievement across the board, which includes marginalized students. It also fosters social cohesion, empathy, and a sense of belonging, which creates a supportive and engaged learning community.

It is my belief that all children and adults, including those with disabilities, must have a say in the issues that affect their lives, in addition to being provided with the opportunity to realize their potential and claim their rights as it relates to education and basic human rights. With this being said I recommend the following:

  1. Provide children who exhibit disabilities with equal opportunities. Governments and educational institutions’ must work together with persons who have disabilities to eliminate the physical, communication and attitudinal barriers that keep them out of mainstream society (UNICEF, 2021) to ensure school enrollment and attendance, provide inclusive healthcare, nutrition, clean water, access to assistive technologies and most importantly, equitable education. They must also work to eradicate stigmas and discriminatory practices across these communities.
  • Consult persons with disabilities and consider the full range of disabilities, as well as the specific needs of children and their families when providing inclusive services and an equitable quality education. This includes responsive caregiving and family-friendly policies, mental health and psycho-social support, in addition to protection from abuse and neglect.

It is also my belief that an inclusive educational environment will lead to the following 7 improvements:

  1. Enhanced Learning Outcomes: When educators have access to research and training inclusive practices, they can create classrooms where all students, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or learning styles, can excel. This, in turn, results in improved learning outcomes and academic success for a broader spectrum of students.
  2. Preparation for Real-World Diversity: Investing in the study and research of inclusion prepares students for the realities of the modern workforce, where they will interact with people from various backgrounds. The skills and knowledge gained through inclusive education research will empower students to navigate a diverse and multicultural world, fostering greater understanding and cooperation.
  3. Social and Emotional Development: Research in this field helps educators create environments where empathy, tolerance, and acceptance are nurtured. Students learn to appreciate differences, develop strong interpersonal skills, and contribute to building more harmonious and inclusive communities.
  4. Legal and Ethical Obligations: Many countries have laws and policies in place that mandate inclusive education. By allocating resources to the study of inclusion, institutions demonstrate their commitment to upholding legal and ethical obligations to provide equitable educational opportunities for all. This proactive approach ensures compliance and avoids potential legal issues.
  5. Global Competitiveness: In a globally connected world, nations compete not only economically but also intellectually and socially. Those who excel in inclusive education are better positioned to attract diverse talent, promote innovation, and address complex global challenges. Allocating resources to this field can enhance a country’s international standing and competitiveness.
  6. Research-Based Solutions: Increased resources in the study of inclusion allow for more research and data collection. This, in turn, leads to evidence-based solutions and practices that can be implemented within educational settings.
  7. Fostering Inclusive Mindsets: Research in inclusion can have a ripple effect, influencing not only educators but also policymakers, parents, and society at large. It promotes a cultural shift toward embracing diversity and fostering inclusive mindsets, which are essential for building a more equitable and harmonious world.

When we fail to count, consider and consult with these children, we are failing to help them reach their vast potential. (Cardona, 2023)

However, there are inspiring examples of schools and universities that have successfully implemented inclusive practices, demonstrating that this is not just a vision, but a tangible, achievable reality.

Real-Life Success Stories

Across the globe, there are countless examples of schools and universities who have embraced inclusive practices, demonstrating the viability and benefits of this approach. From small rural schools to large urban universities, these institutions have shown that with commitment, training, and a willingness to adapt, inclusive education is achievable.

In the United States, the University of Kansas has been recognized for its commitment to inclusivity, particularly for students with intellectual disabilities. Their Transition to Postsecondary Education for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities program provides an inclusive college experience, including access to academic courses, campus activities, and career development.

In Canada, the University of British Columbia has developed a range of initiatives to support inclusive learning. This includes the Centre for Accessibility, which provides resources and support to students with disabilities, as well as training for faculty and staff.

In Europe, countries like Finland have long been recognized for their commitment to inclusive education, with a national curriculum that emphasizes equity, well-being, and the development of a broad range of competencies among all students. (Home | Inclusive Teaching @ UBC, n.d.)

These examples and the body of evidence supporting inclusive education paint a compelling picture. They show that inclusivity is not just a lofty ideal but a tangible, achievable reality that yields benefits for all students, regardless of their background or abilities. By embracing inclusive practices, educational institutions can play a crucial role in building a more equitable, compassionate, and successful society.

A Call to Action

So, to our esteemed sponsors, I urge you to reflect on the immense power and responsibility that comes with your support. Recognize the potential for transformation that lies in investing in an inclusive educational model, and join us in this crucial journey towards academic excellence and societal prosperity. Together, let’s create a future that truly embodies the rich tapestry of diversity that defines our world.

To our law professors and legal experts, I urge you take up the mantle of advocacy and leadership in this crucial endeavor. Your expertise and influence are invaluable in navigating the legal complexities of educational rights, ensuring accountability, and driving the systemic changes needed to create a truly inclusive education model.

By doing so, we not only uphold the legal rights of students, but we also contribute to building a more just, equitable, and inclusive society—a society that recognizes and values the potential in every individual, regardless of their background, abilities, or circumstances.

And lastly, to our students, our future leaders of the world, I urge you to embrace your uniqueness, to recognize your value in belonging, and to advocate for an education system that fully sees you, fully understands you, and fully supports you. Together, we can transform our educational paradigms, fostering a model of inclusivity that breeds academic excellence and prepares each and every one of you for a future filled with promise and potential.

Remember, the diversity in this room, the diversity in our schools, and the diversity in our society is not just something to be tolerated; it is something to be celebrated, embraced, and leveraged for the betterment of all.

As a whole, we all have a moral imperative, Let’s work together to create an education system that reflects this belief, an education system that is truly inclusive, equitable, and poised to unlock the potential in every student, as “Inclusion should never be considered as a sacrifice or a privilege to be “earned” but rather should be recognized as an intrinsic right.” (Rioux, 2002)

Thank you for your time, commitment, and for joining us today to continue to swing the pendulum in the right direction towards creating an inclusive education model for academic excellence.


Learning Generation | the Education Commission Report. (2016). Educationcommission.org. https://report.educationcommission.org/report/

Mezzanotte, C. (2022), “The social and economic rationale of inclusive education: An overview of the outcomes in education for diverse groups of students”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 263, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/bff7a85d-en.

Gillies, J., & Dupuis, S. L. (2016). A framework for creating a campus culture of inclusion: A participatory action research approach. In ‘Cultural Life’, Disability, Inclusion and Citizenship (pp. 11-29). Routledge

United Nations Children’s Fund, Seen, Counted, Included: Using data to shed light on the well-being of children with disabilities, UNICEF, New York, 2021.

Cardona, M. (2023). Guiding Principles A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/guiding-principles.pdf

(Mosweunyane, D. (2013). The African Educational Evolution: From Traditional Training to Formal Education. Higher Education Studies, 3, 50-59

Home | Inclusive Teaching @ UBC. (n.d.). Inclusiveteaching.ctlt.ubc.ca. Retrieved November 2, 2023, from https://inclusiveteaching.ctlt.ubc.ca/

‌ Rioux, M. (2002), Disability, citizenship and rights in a changing world.

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