14.08.2020 Article

Reopening Schools In COVID-19 Era, Children With Special Educational Needs On My Mind

By Hannah Awadzi
Reopening Schools In COVID-19 Era, Children With Special Educational Needs On My Mind
LISTEN AUG 14, 2020

Someone did a survey on Facebook trying to find out if parents would send their children to school should it reopen. I was surprised at the number of people who said yes, I also said yes and added that I am tired of being at home.

I am a mother of a child with special educational needs, cerebral palsy, specifically and I have been home since March 12th, yes, earlier than when President Akuffo-Addo announced the closure of schools.

Before March 12th, my daughter who is in class one in a government mainstream education was told not to come to school on March 12th since that day was a day designated for sports in the school and she cannot participate.

It meant that I had to skip work and take care of her at home. I was looking forward to taking her to school on Monday when the closure of schools was announced on March 15th, as a result of COVID-19.

I have been home since, thanks to the fact that some workplaces in compliance with the social distancing protocol divided workers and the fact that my husband got some 10 days break after working for every 10 days, I would have been stuck at home since March.

I told a friend recently that any opportunity to step out of the house without the children is luxury for me, think of the fact that anytime, I am stepping out, be it to the market or anywhere, I have to carry a seven-year-old girl at my back in addition to two younger ones.

But even before COVID-19, most parents of children with cerebral palsy do not really come into the picture when we talk about education, one of the reasons I feel that COVID-19 has really exposed our flaws toward humanity.

So my daughter with cerebral palsy is in school and depends on other people to live comfortably, someone has to feed her, someone has to help her drink water, even though she is toilet trained, when she is going to school we have to put her in diapers because she needs help to use the school toilet.

Definitely, if schools should reopen tomorrow or the next, she will still need people's support to be able to stay comfortably in school, she may not be able to be in a mask for the period that she will be in school, she cannot wash her hands independently nor use the alcohol-based sanitizer independently.

Because she has been to school throughout her life, I can feel she is tired of being at home and I can imagine how frustrated she will be if her siblings can go back to school and she is left at home.

She is not the only one tired of being home, her mother is tired of handling her all the time, and that, two to four-hour break when she is away from home is considered respite.

Besides, the opportunity for my daughter to be at school and mingle with other children has been of great help to boost her social life and confidence. Because of the orientation given her other classmates when she joined them in the class, she has neither being mocked nor shunned for her disability, rather, she has been embraced and loved by her peers to my admiration.

That is why I seriously believe that in considering the reopening of schools for all children to go to school, children with disabilities or special educational needs should be greatly considered and planned for.

This era should even be an avenue to discuss how we can cater for children with disabilities and groom them for a good social life and also explore the potentials they possess.

I was recently invited by the Centre for Learning and Childhood Disabilities (CLCD) to talk about reopening of schools in this COVID-19 era, from a caregiver's experience and I shared my journey of how challenging it has been to try and enrol my daughter with cerebral palsy into school.

My experiences resonated with a lot of special needs families, some even felt I was better placed since they have not even had the opportunity to enrol their children into school.

In my presentation for the CLCD workshop, I recommended the use of National Service persons, NABCO persons, and students doing internships to enhance the human resource capacities of schools and serve as support to schools.

I have earlier said that caregiving should be considered as a profession. I once met a lady who had completed the University and she said caring for children with Special Needs was her passion so she works with such children in schools or other establishments.

The challenge for many parents has been that some of these establishments are so expensive that it is not affordable at all to the average income earner.

In that case, only the privileged in terms of wealth, are able to afford anything close to education for their children with disabilities or special educational needs.

Meanwhile, if the government assigned National Service persons or NABCO persons to such schools, they could be trained to handle these children under supervision and it will be a win-win situation for all.

I think that caregiving is one employment avenue that we haven't explored as a country and the earlier we start exploring, the better for the country.

I will continue to say that Inclusive Education is possible, it is our willingness to accept all children into our educational system that remains.

As we continue the discussions on 'living with the virus' and reopening of schools, may we all have children with special educational needs in mind.

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