Special education, also known as special-needs education, aided education, exceptional education, alternative provision and exceptional student education is the practice of educating students in a way that caters for their individual differences, disabilities, and special needs. In Nigeria, special-needs children are grouped under three broad categories which are the handicapped, disadvantaged and the gifted and talented. The Collins English Dictionary defines a handicap as someone who has a physical and mental disability that prevents such person from living a totally normal life. This form of impairment could range from intellectual disability, autism, vision impairment, dwarfism, deafness among others. Disadvantaged children are children who in their backgrounds are socially or culturally deprived to an extent that without supplemental provisions they cannot benefit in school curriculum as children with normal backgrounds. Disadvantaged children are more likely to attend poor-quality schools that lack the necessary resources to provide adequate knowledge. According to Colorado Springs School District, gifted and talented children means those persons between the ages of four and 21 whose abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment are so exceptionally or developmentally advanced that they require special provisions to meet their educational needs.
Digitisation of special education in Nigeria is problematic because people are always hesitant to imbibe technology and its diffusion is, therefore, very low. Students and teachers-alike are generally tuned to the chalk and board mode of teaching and technology which could have been deployed is largely ignored. This problem serves to validate the major proposition of the Technology Acceptance Model as postulated by Fred Davis and Richard Bagozzi. The Technology Acceptance Model, TAM, is an information system theory that models how users come to accept and use technology. The model suggests that when users are presented with a new technology, a number of factors influence their decision about how well they will use it, notably: perceived usefulness-this was defined by Fred Davis as the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would improve their job performance. Also, perceived ease-of use which Davis defined as the degree to which a person thinks that using technological devices would be free from complications. The world is gradually becoming digitalised and it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that technology is the way forward. However, there are consequences of adopting technology. One of which is huge cost of providing equipment that will facilitate the smooth transmission and reception of instruction. Also, for special need students, regular teachers are largely ineffective and as such, teachers have to undergo special training and this has its own financial implication.
Special education began during the preliminary and early military periods. The first special school in Nigeria was established in Badagry for the disabled. However, according to the National Policy on Special Education, the provision of quality education to all children with disabilities in Nigeria remains challenging due to poor resources, inequitable distribution of educational services, late identification of children with special needs, among others. The National Policy on Education, NPE, also acknowledges that although Nigeria is involved in Special Needs Education, the present practices fall below standards when compared with global practices. More so, the special needs classroom laboratories in the country are not yet technology-driven. Although several other special schools have been constructed to meet up with the population of children with special needs, there is need for the implementation of nomadic form of learning so as to cater for the educational needs of the Almajirai in Nigeria. The Almajirai constitute a major component of the special needs children in Nigeria. Colloquially, Almajiri refers to any young person who begs on the street and does not attend secular school- a school not affiliated with or restricted to a particular religious group. Nomadic form of learning is a type of learning system where children are able to have access to educational information while moving from one place to another. It would be impossible to meet the educational needs of the Almajirai if the nomadic form of learning is not digitalised because educators cannot move around with them in order to teach them. This is where technology comes into play.
Research has shown that many of the Almajirai are grown-ups and their mind is hardly impressionable. As a result of this, the chalk and board mode of teaching has to be completely discarded and technology must be involved in the form of teaching aids to pique their interest towards education. Educational broadcasting, task analysis and intervention and philanthropic programmes can be deployed as means of digitalising special education in Nigeria. Educational broadcasting can be defined as the transmission of education or educational programmes through radio waves from a television or radio station or any other broadcast device. Educational broadcasting is important because it leaps above illiteracy barrier. Through the use of technological devices like radio and mobile phones, the Almajirai can easily get access to quality online educational materials. Furthermore, the Feedback Intervention Theory in education attempts to explain the effects of feedback interventions on performance. Therefore, for the purpose of evaluation, technology has to be involved so as to improve learners’ performances relative to the learning goals and objectives.
On this note, the Almajirai should be equipped with transponders- a wireless communications, monitoring, or control device that picks up and automatically responds to an incoming signal, so that these people can be located and a set of educators can go to them and ask for their feedback on what has been broadcasted. Task Analysis method can be implemented as another means of digitalising special education in Nigeria. In Task Analysis, complex tasks are divided into subtasks and speed is sacrificed for accuracy. For example, a topic that would normally be taught for 40 minutes to other students would be allocated more time to students with special needs. Therefore, the task analysis method should be used to break the content of instruction down into small manageable bits and pieces so that it can be easily absorbed by the disabled children.
According to the National Policy on Education, NPE, government has future plans of improving the standard of education for children with special needs by creating a less restrictive environment for them to learn. This is a zero reject project which entails education for all irrespective of the circumstances of life, total inclusion of persons with special needs within the ambience of societal operation and diversification of services beyond the school setting to include the home and the hospital. Although, providing effective support to cater for the educational need of the Almajirai is complex due to the fact that they are always moving about in search for what to eat; it is important to eradicate the foundational problem which is poverty. There is a close connection between illiteracy and poverty. Poverty can lead to illiteracy likewise illiteracy can lead to poverty. According to the article on the Impact of Poverty on the Educational Outcomes for Children, it is well documented that poverty decreases a child’s readiness for school. In other words, poverty could be one of the major reasons why the Almajirai might not be excited about Western education. However, if there is a way to attenuate the effects of poverty on the Almajirai by advocating for the support of intervention and philanthropic programmes that provide academic and social support at the community and national level, then the interest of the Almajirai toward Western education can be stimulated.
Kehinde Oni, a student, wrote from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos.