The fact that education (informal education) begins at home has never been in dispute. The role of the home to a successful education is recognized everywhere. The acquisition or learning of language which is essential to acquiring education or knowledge is also not in doubt. Language is thus crucial in communicating thoughts and knowledge in any learning environment – at home and in the school environment.
Thus, for home environment to aid school children to attain a better foundation in their pursuit of education, there should be a proper communication system which ensures that children are able to learn verbally and non-verbally from their parents. What happens if a child has a disability in the use of verbal language (speech impairment or any related special need), which is mainly the channel of communication in most homes? The hands can do the tricks.
The Family Reading concept advocated by the Ghana Book Development Council (GBDC) is one of the surest ways of helping bridge the gap in the acquirement of education between children with disabilities and children without disabilities. Family reading basically creates an enabling environment at home for school children to read as well as cultivate the habit of a life-long reading culture, which underlies literacy and education.
The home (parents) augments the efforts by the school in ensuring that children realise their goals of acquiring a good education, which in turn open doors of opportunities for the future. When the family meets for the purposes of reading, a homey environment is created to contain the difficulties of some children with special needs.
The condition in which reading or learning takes place at home is not competitive in nature. Parents also exercise a great deal of patience in such circumstances. This is because the type of reading culture that is advocated is for pleasure or recreation, and mostly done with the support of parents/guardians who the children are very comfortable with.
The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4.5.1) seeks to achieve its target of inclusion and equity in education by the year 2030. SDG 4.5.1 states, “All people, irrespective of sex, age…., as well as persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, and children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations or other status, should have access to inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities” (sdg4education2020.org).
Although the UN as a body seeks to achieve this target with respective governments of members states, it is noteworthy that this target cannot be realised without the support of the home (parents) where education begins. This is because parents have always been seen as partners in promoting education.
There are diverse groups of people with disabilities in the society. These groups of people, especially those of school going age, have disabilities or special needs which in one way or the other hamper their efforts in reading or learning. Their needs require society’s special support. Are they able to read and learn in the same manner as their peers without disabilities? No! Do they need to read and learn with others without disabilities to help their cause of learning? Yes! Do those without disabilities need to read and learn with those without disabilities? Yes! The society needs to interact effectively with those with disabilities in order for them to overcome some of their hurdles in their quest to study. This is the only way to ensure social inclusion or integration.
The use of sign language has been one of the effective tools in interacting with persons with hearing loss. That is how society has managed to engage them effectively. Persons with visual impairment have also benefited immensely from the use of the braille to study. Both persons with hearing loss and persons with visual impairment use the hands to study and communicate due to their special needs. The family and the entire society have a greater responsibility to ensure that children who are deemed to be vulnerable, especially those with such special needs are given the best foundation in education. With parents and guardians learning the sign language, there is no way they would fail to bequeath to their children a lifelong culture of reading which will in turn help these children build a strong foundation in learning right from the beginning.
The benefit of reading is for everyone, and so is the responsibility for ensuring that nobody lags behind in realising the benefits of reading. Children learn through what they are taught and what they observe from others. The question is how those with hearing loss learn or read if the guardians or parents cannot help them to appreciate the written text. How do they learn by observation and cultivate a lifelong culture of reading if there is nobody to help them develop the habit of doing so? How do such people enjoy the benefit of reading together and share in the joy of the written text if the family or society cannot meet their needs? There is a way out. Society needs to meet the needs of people in such situations by learning their way of interacting with the environment.
In conclusion, everyone in the society will benefit from reading which underlies literacy if everyone, especially persons with disability and the vulnerable, is supported by the entire society to read and also cultivate a lifelong reading culture. This requires the family which is described as the basic unit of the society to create an enabling environment for all children, notwithstanding their status, to interact effectively with the environment. This includes an environment where children with and without disabilities can share in the joy of reading books. With the use of the sign language, all families will be able to create an environment where both children with and without disabilities will be able to interact positively through learning. In doing so, we can all create a society where no one lags behind, where no one goes to the bank, hospital, supermarket, offices, etc., and feels stranded because he or she cannot communicate or interact with anybody. Let us learn to read through the hand and build a foundation for a society that allows everyone to read, learn and interact unhindered.
Literacy Promotion Manager
Ghana Book Development Council