In Ghana, including all children in the classroom

A new initiative in Ghana’s school system is training teachers to identify and support students with special needs.

By Offeibea Baddoo
A boy sits in front of his home, Ghana
UNICEF Ghana/2016/Baddoo
16 August 2016

Twelve-year-old Daniel was having trouble reading the chalkboard and completing his assignments in school. Before, his teachers may have assumed he was choosing not to participate in class. But a new initiative in Ghana’s school system is training teachers to identify and support students with special needs, so they can be included inside and outside the classroom.

ABREM ANKAASE, Ghana, 16 August 2016 – When the school year began, teacher John Sylvester Mensah noticed that Daniel, 12, struggled to read what was written on the board. After a chat with Daniel, Mr. Mensah moved him to the front of the class so that he would have access to what the other children were learning.

Mr. Mensah helped meet Daniel’s needs related to his visual impairment because he has been trained to provide the right care and support for children with special needs. This same inclusion training was what led him to make sure that Daniel was not excluded from a health screening exercise in his school, which gave him a second medical opinion on his eyesight. Now, Mr. Mensah is also following up with Daniel’s father to determine whether further diagnosis in a bigger hospital is needed.

Daniel is one of five sons born in a village about a 30 minute drive from the district capital of Cape Coast. He was born with an impairment in his right eye, making it difficult for him to see. Over time, his school work has also been affected.

In the past, a teacher would hardly have become involved in the well-being of a special needs child. Rather, Mr. Mensah might have considered Daniel to be lazy or indifferent, and punished him for consistently not finishing his assignments.

UNICEF Ghana/2016/Baddoo

Daniel does his weekend chores in front of his house. Thanks to encouragment from Mr. Mensah, Daniel has had his health insurance renewed and is now awaiting a new diagnosis on his eye.

Now equipped with his new understanding of inclusive education and how to support children with special needs, Mr. Mensah is becoming an empowered agent of change in his classroom in rural Ghana.

A system-wide transformation

The Ghana Education Service and UNICEF are partnering to lead this social transformation in schools. Working in selected districts, UNICEF offers teacher trainings and works with head teachers and circuit supervisors to disseminate the principles and methodologies of inclusive education. The trainings emphasize how to effectively supervise teachers to care and support children with special needs. Thanks to a the grant from UNICEF Germany, all children in selected districts have been screened to determine if they have any intellectual, hearing, sight or dental needs which may hinder their ability to learn.

Daniel’s father Ebenezer says, “I am pleased that the school is paying attention to our children and even though I am aware of my son’s problem I wasn’t aware of its severity.” On the suggestion of Mr. Mensah, Ebenezer gets Daniel’s health insurance renewed through the Department of Social Welfare and the District Education Office. Now, Daniel is awaiting further diagnosis.

In the meantime, Daniel is happy to be in school and wants to be a teacher someday, but it is still a struggle. “Most of the time I cannot see what is written and I have to borrow my friend’s books to be up to date on my notes. Sometimes, I have to ask my brother to read out the notes to me as I can’t see well enough to read,” he says. 

There are many more children like Daniel in Ghana – children who have the right to be happier in school, but who need greater emotional support. With tears rolling down his face, Daniel says, “My friends tease me and call me names because of my eye. My greatest wish is to have my eye corrected.”

Mr. Mensah knows that teaching Daniel’s classmates to respect and treat their peers equally will go a long way to make Daniel feel like he belongs in the classroom and in the larger society. This deliberate effort to teach children about equality and fairness is also essential to including all children in school and holistically addressing their learning, emotional, and psychosocial needs – and that is what inclusive education is all about.