Ghana’s failure in SDG4 – How disability turned education into a hunt and not a right

Imagine giving birth to a child who cannot attend any school close to you because there is no special school to accommodate his or her condition.

This is the plight of children born with vision, hearing and intellectual impairments in several parts of Ghana. Their parents would either have to send them long distances far away from them to school or choose the simpler option  of abandoning their education.

That appears to be the story of four year old Daniel who has suffered blindness as a result of side effects of measles.

His mother Esther Gyan, a petty trader lives with Daniel at Marban a rural town in the Atwima Nwabeagya district of the Ashanti region.

She told Ultimate News’ Ivan Heathcote – Fumador the boy has been sent to the Agogo, Offinso and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals and has been confirmed irreversibly blind.

His father Samuel kwame Boakye told Ultimate News the situation has been traumatic for him as he has spent his entire savings seeking medical help albeit unsuccessfully for little Daniel.

”The time that I realized that nothing could be done about it, all my money and everything I had was finished and now I have even lost my credibility because I had to borrow so much,“ He lamented.

The two accept the condition. But little Daniel will have to go to a special school. This is where the challenge is because there is not one school in the Ashanti region which caters for visually impaired children.

Mr Kwame Boakye told me, I realized that this child had to be taken to the blind school. I tried looking around Kumasi but they say there is no type of school like that here in the Ashanti region.”

Across the country, there are only two options. Daniel will have to be sent to the Eastern region to the Akropong School for the blind or much further to Wa in the Upper West Region.

This is clearly a deviation from Goal four of the Sustainable Development Goals which highlights inclusivity of quality education for all.

This goal which Ghana is ably signatory to as a member state of the United Nations recognizes the essential role inclusive and quality education plays in improving lives and securing sustainable development.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) clearly defines inclusive education as

A process of addressing and responding to the diversity  of  needs  of  all  learners  through  increasing  participation  in  learning,  cultures  and communities  and  reducing  exclusion  within  and  from  education

This  definition  captures  the  two  major  dimensions  of  inclusive  education  which  often  excludes children  from  accessing  the  formal  school  and  participating  fully  in  the  classroom  experience; and  secondly,  it  addresses  the  needs  of  children  who  are  restricted  from  full  engagement  in  the educational process inside the classroom.

Commenting on the development, the Ashanti region president of the Ghana Federation for the Disabled Alfred Tebi Amponsah laments government’s failure to recognize the creation of more educational facilities to train the unfortunate young children born with disabilities.

“As of now schools that train persons with vision impairment, for the basic school we have only two in Ghana. One is Akropong School for the blind in the eastern region and Wa school for the blind in the upper west region of Ghana. If there is a new identification, the person has to go to these two segregated schools.”

But Daniel is not in this alone. Five year old Adobia is also facing challenges. She is hearing impaired. She lives at Anloga a suburb of the Ashanti regional capital Kumasi.

Her mother and a cousin of mine, 16 year old Sarah who had her at the age of thirteen will not speak on record.

Her daughter Adobea would have to be sent to Jamasi an hour and half drive from Kumasi. Even with that the regional president for the disabled tells me no student is being admitted as the school is full to capacity.

The only other option is to go to the Brong Ahafo Region to the Becham School for the deaf or to Savalugu School for the deaf in the Northern region.

But her mother says it will be difficult monitoring her child from that far.

For now Adobia attends the St Michael primary school at Sesanso in Kumasi where she has no idea what her teacher is saying because she simply cannot hear a word.

Meanwhile Ghana’s disability act passed in the year 2006 mandates the government to progressively establish rehabilitation centres in all ten regions and districts in the country; a provision which is not existent till now over a decade after promulgation.

The act in section 18 captioned free education and special schools stipulates that government should Provide free education for a person with disability, and Establish special schools for persons with disability who by reason of their disability cannot be enrolled in formal schools.

The situation is not limited only to the blind and hearing impaired Ghanaian children. It is also a problem with children with intellectual disabilities. There are a number of special schools including the Garden City Special School, Edwinase Special School, And the Community Special Vocational School, in the Ashanti Region.

But all these schools do not have academic oriented courses. They only focus on teaching the children with intellectual disability handicrafts just to give them a vocation.

Psychologists at the Komfo Anokye Teaching hospital  Doctor Daniel Fordjour laments that this renders all Ghanaian children living with some intellectual disability with no hope of making it in formal education

“The teachers at the main stream don’t have time to take them through things in a gradual process. No! They are working with time and with these children you need a lot more time just to cover a term’s work in school. In other places they have such special schools.”

“We have some special schools but the definition of our special schools is not to take our time to take them through academics. Here they don’t educate them, they train them so that they don’t become a burden but we don’t have a special school that will take care of children that are having difficulty in the intellectual sense”

Ghana has a shining example in the person of Farida Bedwei who is a renowned IT specialist living with Cerebral Pulsy. She was lucky enough to have had affluent parents who had her to school outside the country.

But does government have that will power to invest in such special schools to groom people to become as good as Fareda,

Mrs Mercy Ampofo is the director of Wings for life Ghana a private school located here in Kumasi dedicated to the care and reintegration of autistic children into society.

Mrs Ampofo tells Ultimate News, Wings for life has made progress so far in the care of children with autism. She is however worried that as at now there is no state support for autistic care making it very expensive in Ghana.

“For now we don’t have government intervention.  We have noticed that this area has been ignored. In fact disabilities of people who cannot just walk or handle things are even struggling so we have been wondering whether we are part of the system. But after working so many years now in autism we have seen progress in the children with some returning to school. For now parents have to pay for everything,” she explained with some hopelessness in her eyes.

Ntim Twumasi Kwaku is wheel chair bound; He got into this state as a result of an accident. He served his due in the royal army in the United Kingdom.

He returns to his Alma Mata the Ejisu Experimental JHS, to make a donation of five hundred dual desks. The realities stare him in the face.

He wouldn’t have had it easy if he was in this state, back in 1988 as a basic school student jumping up and down the stairs on his two former limbs. The school infrastructure of most if not all public school buildings are not disability friendly

His advocacy is for government to begin paying attention to making school buildings disability friendly to encourage all such children to attend school with independence, confidence and dignity.

“I realize that most of our schools, almost every one of them in Ghana is not accessible to those of us in wheel chairs and with clutches and other forms of disabilities want to take this opportunity to bring this to the notice of government that those of us who are disabled also need equal access to education so they should try and make basic school blocks and other school facilities accessible to people with disability so that we can all go and attain the right level of education that we want,”

Consider the plight of children like little blind Daniel or little hearing impaired Adobea who will have to bear the inconveniences of travelling long distances outside the region to get basic education.

Or the many children living with intellectual disability or the children with physical disabilities using clutches or wheel chairs who have to be carried around to get access to their classrooms.

This condition does not only impugn on Ghana’s inability to provide equitable, unlimited access to inclusive education as spelt out in SDG 4.

The SDG eight provides that Ghana like all other member nations; Promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all

All these children who are being denied easy access to inclusive education are being set up on a disadvantaged path in pursuing their full potentials in the world of work and economic empowerment.

SDG#10: targets to reduce inequality within and among countries. These children as young as they are, don’t have equal access to basic needs like access to education as easy as anyone else with no disability will have.

SDG#16: is to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. But is the plight of little blind Daniel just; is the plight of little hearing impaired Adobia inclusive and is the nation at peace with itself?

The clock is ticking and 2030 is not so far off. If the Millennium development goals failed to achieve satisfactory results necessitating the formation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the possibility of failure cannot be ruled out.

It is worthy of caution to national leaders, civil society, the media and all other concerned citizens that the more we fail to reach these Sustainable Development Goals the worse another person gets and the more people continue to fall through the cracks unnoticed.

I am myself visually impaired as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa which has stolen quite a big chunk of my vision. As I type this piece, I do so with a screen reader software which reads back every character and word I type back to me. At least I have tasted both worlds of being abled and being disabled.

I have come to only realize one thing which is a sad truth that once you join the free train of persons with disability you would have to hunt for yourself what others just take with the stretch of a hand.

With my job as a journalist which I do with little support, I can only capitalize on the policy space and ride on the back of the world wide accepted Strategic Development Goals to make my point and only hope that the ancient sleeper awakes to the realities unseen and unattended to.

By: Ghana/ Korshie Heathcote – Fumador

Ultimate FM -Kumasi (EIB Network)