Hope for children with disabilities in Ghana

Ebenezer Mensah prays daily that one day his son’s left eye will see well and he can live his dream of becoming a teacher.

A young boy sitting doing laundry, with his father, teacher and siblings sitting in the background
01 May 2022

Ebenezer Mensah prays daily that one day his son’s left eye will see well and he can live his dream of becoming a teacher.   A peasant farmer and father of five sons, Ebenezer and his family live 13 kilometers from the district capital of KEEA, a half hour drive from Cape Coast.   Daniel is 12 years old and in grade 6, the second child in the family.    He was born with a visual impairment in the left eye making it difficult for him to see well, and this is increasingly affecting his school work.

When the school year begun, his new class teacher, John Sylvester Mensah noticed that Daniel struggled to read what he wrote on the board. He spoke to Daniel and moved him from his sitting place in the middle to the front of the class. Daniel is very happy with his new place and says “I can see better from the front than when I was in the middle.”

Daniel is fortunate that his teacher, John has been trained on Inclusive Education to provide the right care and support for children with special needs. John also made sure that Daniel participated in the health screening exercise organized at the school level to seek a fresh diagnosis of his weak eyesight. He is also following up with Daniel’s father on the need for a further diagnosis and support.

In the past such an outcome would have been almost impossible. John may have considered Daniel to be lazy and an indifferent student and punished him for not finishing his class work. Now, equipped with his new understanding of inclusive education and how to support children with special needs, John is becoming an empowered agent of change in the classroom in rural Ghana.

The social transformation in the schools has been led by the Ghana Education Service in partnership with UNICEF and supported partly by a grant from the German NATCOM. Working with the Ghana Education Service in selected districts in Ghana, UNICEF is supporting the training of teachers, head teachers and circuit supervisors on the principles and methodologies of Inclusive Education, and how to effectively supervise teachers to care and support children with special needs. Through the German Natcom grant, all children in selected districts have been screened to determine if there are any intellectual, hearing, sight or dental needs which may impair their ability to learn.

Ebenezer, Daniels father 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, I know what is required of me.” John, the teacher is encouraging Ebenezer to renew Daniel’s National Insurance to enable him go for treatment. Working closely with Department of Social Welfare, The District Education Office (KEEA) has been able to renew Daniel’s Health Insurance. With a renewed Insurance, this class six pupil is being referred for further diagnosis.

While Daniel awaits this, he continues to make the most of what he has but it remains a struggle. He says “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 said. The situation looks positive now because he will undergo further diagnosis and treatment with his renewed health insurance.

They are many more children like Daniel in Ghana who have the right to be happier in school but are not. There is still more to be done to cater for their emotional needs.

My friends tease me and call me names because of my eye. My greatest wish is to have my eye corrected.

Daniel, 12 years old
A young boy sitting outside doing his laundry
Daniel Mensah doing his weekend chores in front of his house

Teaching Daniel’s peers to respect and treat their peers equally would go a long way to make Daniel feel he belongs in school and in the larger society. A deliberate effort to teach children about equality and fairness is also required to make the effort at including all children in school and holistically addressing their learning, emotional, and psychosocial needs – and that is what inclusive education is all about.