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Ghana’s Inclusive education policy

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© UNICEF Ghana/2013/Quarymne

25 August 2014 – In the last few months a group of educators and policy makers, with the support of UNICEF, have been working away at creating a policy that will change the way that Ghana’s marginalised children: children with disabilities, ethnic minorities, the ultra-poor are perceived, served and included in the education system. This is the inclusive education policy as it is called, states that:

‘ Inclusive schools must recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students, accommodating both different styles and rates of learning and ensuring quality education to all through appropriate curricula, organizational arrangements, teaching strategies, resource use and in partnerships with their communities.’


In other words, the policy requires schools to recognise that all children can learn, that all children have a right to learn and that different children learn differently. And because children have different ways of the learning, then the schools and the education system must make sure that they have the physical environment to learn (big print books, sign language for example) as well as the social, emotional and psychological environment to learn (so that they welcomed into the school, have friends, are treated with respect, are believed in and valued by their fellow students, teachers, head teachers and the community).

The policy aims to change systems, create mechanisms, equip schools and, in the process, change community perceptions of what children with disabilities in the first instance and all children in due course, can learn, achieve and contribute to their communities and Ghanaian society as a whole. It is the result of a series of consultations with Ministries, the Ghana Education Service, the Girls Education Unit and the Early Childhood Education Unit of the Basic Education Division. Other contributors include the key Universities, Ministry of Health, the National Council for Persons with Disability and the Ministry of Gender and Social protection.

The involvement of non-state actors such as the Ghana Blind Union, the Ghana Federation of the Disabled, the Ghana National Education Coalition Campaign, the World Education and International Council for Education of people with Visual Impairment has been crucial in creating a policy that ensures the rights and needs of all Ghanaian children are considered and addressed.

Why do we need such a policy

For too long the education system has served those who fit readily into it, deeming those who cannot, as unable to be educated or at least unable to be educated with everyone else. It has excluded those who do not fit in easily into the set structure and either set them apart in special schools or ignored them altogether. In the process, an entire generation of young people who could contribute to their society’s progress through their dynamism, their creativity, and their intelligence are simply not able to do so because they have been excluded from the school system. Approximately 100,000 Ghanaian children aged 6-14 have a disability. More than 16,000 of these children are out of school (Census 2010). In actual fact, all children can learn provided the education system recognises and supports their learning. All children have a right to learn. What needs to change is not the children but the system and the IE policy sets out to do just that.

A sense of conviction

The IE policy is anchored in the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Ghana, the Ghana shared Growth and Development Agenda and the Education Strategic Plan (2010-2020), the Disability Act and the Education Act and in the international agreements that Ghana is a signatory to such as Education for All, and in the 2020 plan among other documents. It is based on the belief that all children can learn and have a right to an education. The policy makers are determined to bring forth a policy that will make a difference where it counts, in the lives of children, communities and in Ghana’s education system. Hence the policy is accompanied by an implementation plan that sets out who will do what and by when as well as year by year targets and indicators to measure progress. In order to continuously respond to changing needs, the policy will be reviewed every five years.

Who has to be included...

The policy seeks to cover all children who are marginalised whether because of a disability or poverty or because they speak a different language or because they are girls (and not boys). The initial focus will be on the inclusion of children with disabilities but the policy is very clear on the fact that inclusion covers the whole diversity of children in Ghana.

...and by whom?

It would be simple if we could say that inclusion simply requires the education system to be more responsive to the diversity of the student population in Ghana. In that case, the provision of equipment, training teachers differently, changing the assessment system so that children with different skills and abilities can all be tested would be enough. Sadly, it is not. Policies alone cannot change anything. We need to examine our own beliefs and behaviours. We are all guilty of excluding children for a variety of reasons and what needs to change is also our own ideas particularly about children with disabilities. And ‘our’ means all of us, parents, teachers, community leaders, government officials, all of the wider Ghanaian society. There are some misguided ideas that we all need to fight. Some of these ideas have been around for a long time but that does not make them real. They are often the result of lack of information or popular beliefs which do not have a basis in scientific fact. The problem is, when we tell children ‘you are disabled, you can’t learn,’ they come to believe it of themselves and then they can’t learn, not because they are not able but because they have been told they are unable. We all know these ideas and we all know people who believe them. Inclusive education is everyone’s responsibility.

What happens next?

The policy is close to its final draft. The next few weeks will see it completed and presented to the Cabinet. But the adoption of the policy is not the end of the story. Even as you read this, there are initiatives in the Ministries and in the programmes of organisations such as UNICEF and the Ghana Blind Union that are addressing the issue of inclusion. And the consultations will go on to finalise the implementation plan, to ensure that Ghanaians know about the policy through the media as well as through their community leaders. The policy demonstrates the will and the direction that the government wants to go in education but it is the implementation plan that will result in action at the level where it matters, in the school and the community.

What can you do to push the policy forward?

Exclusion takes a number of forms. ‘There is no place in our school’ is one form, not letting our children play with children with disabilities is another. Tolerating teasing and bullying is a third. Feeling ashamed and confused and lost is another. Not keeping an open mind is another. We all indulge in these behaviours at some time or the other. We need to change ourselves first and then those around us. If we put our efforts together: community members, teachers, church leaders, traditional leaders, government officials, then we can change these ideas and ensure that every Ghanaian child is welcomed, loved, educated and enabled to contribute to the wider Ghanaian society. We will all be the richer for the having diverse talent and skills and abilities to help build a better Ghana.

Will you take up the challenge and give all children in Ghana a brighter future?

 

 
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