By Gabriel Ewepu and Oluwafemi Ayooluwa
A nonprofit making organisation, Sightsavers Nigeria, Wednesday, maintained that inclusivity in education remains bedrock to national development, hence government at all levels and communities need to ensure children with disabilities are included in the scheme of things as far as their education and future are concerned.
Speaking at the closeout of the Inclusive Education project, In Nigeria, (Supporting Mainstreaming Inclusion so all can Learn Equally, SMILE, the Country Director, Sightsavers Nigeria, Dr Sunday Isiyaku, explained how imperative inclusive education is to develop human capital and added that the positive impact it has on the lives of children with disabilities and their families cannot be overemphasized, and added that inclusive education is not only a basic human right, but also a powerful tool for achieving sustainable development.
Isiyaku also commended various development partners and civil society organisations while he acknowledged the role of government in the success of the SMILE project in eight schools in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna State as pilot schools, and urged government and others to continue on this path.
He also expressed optimism that together they can assure that no child is left behind in their quest for education and a better future.
He said: “With the SMILE project we are telling parents who have children with disabilities that they can have basic and good education, and what the project has done is to get the parents aware that, train teachers on how to put together children with disabilities with those who are not with disabilities so that they can communicate and learn together.
“We want all children to access education in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, in order for not child is denied from going to school because he or she has disability, ensuring that the schools become more accessible, the teachers are trained on how to teach children who have disabilities and if we are able to do that this children will become convenient and able to attend school.
“The number of children with disabilities enrollment is increasing every day, and what we do is to create awareness and telling government that this is possible and put in place policies that that would ensure and encourage children with disabilities to come to school, and also strengthening the system, providing policies, ensuring that teachers know how to teach children with disabilities, and parents of children take children to school.
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“It fills my heart with joy and gratitude to see all of you come to celebrate the successful completion of this incredible project.
“Today, we are not gathered to only celebrate the success of this project, but to see the value of the impact that we have collectively created in the lives of countless children, especially Children with Disabilities, their families, and community where they live.
“We would like to take a moment to reflect on the remarkable transformations that we have seen during the implementation of this project.
“From the beginning, the SMILE project was built on the foundation of hope and inclusivity. We wanted to see a world where every child, regardless of who they were, could access quality education, and together, we have turned that vision into a reality.
“In the eight pilot schools where we implemented the project, we witnessed the transformative power of inclusive education—the kind that doesn’t just change lives but gives hope and empowers these young hearts. Every teacher, every parent, OPD, SBMC, every supporter—your commitment and passion have been the core of this journey.
“Let me assure you, that this is not just the end of the SMILE project, but a new beginning. As we bid farewell to the SMILE project, we must carry the lessons learned and the memories shared as guides for our future work.
“Let us celebrate not just to the project’s success but the spirit of togetherness, hard work and commitment that brought us here today. Together, we have made the world a bit brighter, a bit kinder, and a bit more inclusive.”
Meanwhile, highlighting achievements of SMILE Inclusive Education project, the Director, Programmes Operations, Sightsavers Nigeria, Dr Joy Shu’aibu, said, “The collaboration with Nigerian Teachers Institute (NTI) produced: Training manuals on inclusive education for teachers and administrators; and Integration of inclusive education courses into the NCE programme.
“SMILE was implemented in 1 LGA (Jema’a) in 8 schools to create examples of good practice, aligning with the Inclusive Education model
“The project will be overseen and led by government, OPD and consortium partners together, through the established Steering Committee
“The triangle on the slide illustrates the partnership, together we worked in the target areas where all children, including children with disabilities but also other marginalised groups such as girls and children from nomadic communities can learn together.”
However, during the SMILE project closeout panel discussion, one of the panelists, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder, TAF Africa and Convener, Disability Inclusion Nigeria, Amb Jake Epelle, pointed out that there is lack of trained teachers on inclusive education.
Epelle also spoke on the need for awareness creation, funding and holistic education policy that disabuse the mindset on having special schools for persons with disability but one school premises that would impact them positively and making it easy for them to integrate into the society.
“When it comes to inclusive education there is the need to increase the awareness because it is not many people that know about it. Many parents, especially parents of persons with disability are hiding their children at home, how do we go to them to ensure that they are aware that these children they are hiding in their homes need education.
“However, he pointed out that special schools do not real make the desired impact on the education of children with disabilities because they find it difficult to be integrated into the society, hence the need to “contextualize the need for inclusive education and drive it from a principled perspective so that certain segments of the society even within the Organisation of People with Disabilities, OPDs, will not live in denial. There is the need for proper awareness from the hamlets to metropolis.
“The second thing is building the capacities of teachers to teach and understand inclusive education. We lack teachers who are very much prepared and aware to teach inclusive education in an inclusive setting. So, teachers’ training is very key, and of course we cannot stop talking about funding. Though we have FCDO but we have to go beyond that.
“We must not fail to embrace technology and there is the need to invest in technology that would drive inclusive education and they do not come cheap. Get what I will call adaptive technology.
“We have recommended that in each inclusive school needs resource centre where these devices are acquired are kept in one sport so that in every point in time a student who needs it can go there and get.
“Let us destroy the myth around inclusive education being sponsored for children with disability and the marginalized; we are making it look as a concept made for the marginalized. Inclusive education is a system for all learners, and whether you are aged, have a disability or none.”
Also another panelist, a representative from Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, FCDO, Ian Attfield, urged President Bola Tinubu to fund education with subsidy removal proceeds.
“For the next five years or so, I’m certain we won’t be having discussions about how we can mainstream some of the inclusive education elements.
“There are many major economic changes taking place, such as the changes in fuel subsidies should start being deployed to support the human development of Nigeria to build education and services among other things that young people need”, Attfield said.
Meanwhile, the Technical Director, Inclusive Education, Sightsavers Global Team, Liesbeth Roolvink, said, “We have trained many people, we have so many champions now that could take this process forward in different places in Nigeria and that is our dream and our hope.”
One of the trained teachers under the SMILE project, Zainab Isah, commended Sightsavers Nigeria for making the SMILE project to indeed bring smile to the faces of children with disabilities and their families, and how teachers capacities were built to teach the children with disabilities together with their peers, while they allay fears of parents who thought their children with disabilities would be bullied and oppressed when they are among children and teachers with no disabilities.