Nigeria: Students With Special Needs Left Out of Lockdown Plans

Social distancing is one of the proven measures to limit the spread of coronavirus, so we must learn to change our behaviour to save lives.

Lafia, Minna, Benin, Abuja — Students with disabilities are said to be receiving inadequate learning support during the COVID-19 lockdown due to lack of inclusive learning environment.

Students with special needs, parents, teachers and interest groups are also reportedly left out in the COVID-19 lockdown plans.

In Nasarawa State, broadcast lessons are made available to students who have radio and television, but there is no provision for students with disabilities. Again, most students have said they could not access the radio classes due to erratic power supply.

A retired civil servant and parent, Mr. Jibrin Ogaji, said students with special needs were supposed to be catered for in radio and television lessons during the COVID-19 restrictions.

The Principal of Lafia Special School, Mrs. Bearbel Jaja, said, "The school has interactive smart boards, but because of substandard electrical wiring and obsolete computers, nothing is working right now.

"If we are to conduct virtual lessons for the physically challenged, the school would have to buy a software for e-learning that takes care of the Nigerian school curricula.

The Chairman of the Nasarawa State chapter of the Joint National Association of People With Disability (JONAPWD), Mr. Innocent Ladan, pleaded with authorities to provide all necessary facilities that would ensure easy access to education by students with special needs during the lockdown.

Mr. Ladan said, "I am appealing to the authorities in all the tiers of government to always consider physically challenged pupils when drafting educational policies and to make provision for e-learning for us to have a sense of belonging."

In Niger State, special needs students have reportedly not been integrated into the radio or virtual classrooms. This is even when most private secondary schools and few higher institutions have started online classes to keep students engaged before schools reopen.

The Chairman of Niger State Association for the Blind, Mr. Abdulrahman Awal, said blind students were idle at home as there was no provision for their learning.

Mr. Awal said, "It is not impossible for the visually impaired students to learn online, but the system has made it impossible. This is because ICT is not taught to the physically challenged in public primary and secondary schools. Very few are benefitting from ICT training. Those in the university are better; not that they are being thought, but because of their personal effort; which is mostly the situation in northern Nigeria.

"As an association, even if we plan to train them at this period, it is impossible for them to learn because they are not allowed to move around. The atmosphere is not friendly to us."

He further said the COVID-19 pandemic had taught authorities to look for a new way of engaging students, and that government should provide ICT support for blind students.

He suggested that training for the visually impaired should be considered and taken serious both at the primary and secondary school levels so that students would not be left out in the scheme of activities, and added that the association would also leverage on the mass media to educate its members on the need to acquire ICT skills.

The Chairman of Polio Affected People Association (PAPA) in Niger State, Mr. Awwal Ahmad, said there was no attempt on the part of the government towards the disabled in the lockdown.

Mr. Ahmad said, "The lockdown has knocked the disabled down completely. Majority of them do not have access to computer or Android phones to study online."

In Edo State, President of the Network for the Advancement of People with Visible Disabilities (NAPVID), Barr. Melody Omosah, said children living with disabilities were left out in virtual learning and "educational" radio.

Barr. Omosah said, "The children with vision and hearing impairments are completely left out in the e-learning activities of various schools during the COVID-19 lockdown."

The visually impaired lawyer said various associations in charge of people living with disabilities had come to the aid of their members by organising extra lessons.

Omosah said education managers must fashion out ways to accommodate children with disabilities in lockdown plans.

He added that, "Right now, both the federal and state governments do not have plans for persons with disabilities. If they are left behind, they might lose out on learning. Education must be inclusive."

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