Introduction and Background
In some parts of Sandema, youngsters with various forms of disabilities are often perceived as “cursed” and “unclean” and thus hidden by households and communities. The 2010 population and housing census report indicates that in every three out of school children, one is not in school due to some kind of a disability. Lacking support from their families, communities and schools, most parents conclude that their disable youngster would be denied admission. This is because mainstream schools have no support structures in place for such students to access education or develop skills which gives them opportunity for self-employment or obtain jobs in the labour market, so they live fulfilled lives. In 2015 a prefeasibility study by Don Bosco Youth Network West Africa (DBYN) found that in Sandema and its surrounding towns and villages, sight, hearing, physical, socially disadvantaged and behavioural impairments were identified among several children across the district. These youngsters remained poor and unskilled and thus, become socially and economically marginalised in society. The school systems serve as window of hope in empowering youngsters and giving them skills to earn descent living, so they are able to find their place in society. However, the reality at Sandema and its surrounding communities is that many young people find themselves excluded from learning opportunities due to existing barriers. The school environments are not friendly to all youngster, a situation which results in higher drop-out rate of disabled youngsters. Similarly, learning methodologies often do not take into account special needs of learners and even where such learners struggle to complete a course, transition to employment can also be very challenging due to discrimination among actors in the labour market.
3 Sandema Senior High /Technical School prior to the inclusive education initiative
Sandema Senior High/ Technical School (San. Tech) is a regular government school located at Bilinsa, offering three year SHS and Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) leading to the award of national accredited certification post-completion. Established in 1979, SAN TECH has a student population of two thousand three hundred and sixty, (2,360) as of 2018 when the Inclusive Education (IE) project started, with one thousand, three hundred and six (1306) boys and one thousand and fifty-four (1054) girls. At SAN. TECH, young people are considered as part of the critical mass of manpower and pillars required for impactful development. Hence, the training of the youth is seen by the school to be a top-most priority as it equips them for active participation in the development of their communities. The school offers both Senior High and TVET programs. At the TVET level, courses offered include Building and Construction, Wood Work and Metal Work. The Senior High Technical school level offers General Arts, Home Economics, General Science, Business Studies and Agricultural Science with other complementary core subjects. A baseline study by DBYN in 2015 found that teacher capacities in Inclusive Education remained low, and pathways and ramps to the school facilities were not available. Moreover, access to basic tools and equipment remained a challenge and even where admissions were offered, stereotyping among students and teachers compelled disabled trainees to drop-out of school. The curricula were inflexible, and this posed threats to learning and assessment particularly for students with disabilities, which often lead to increase in failure rates. Considering the central location of the school and its admission capacity, SAN TECH was selected as part of the beneficiaries for inclusive education project to offer equal learning opportunities and redress the situation where many more students are denied admission on grounds of inaccessibility and unfriendly nature of the school environment.
Description of the inclusive education initiative
The three year initiative (2017-2020) is an inclusive TVET and SHTS education initiative funded by Africa Action, Germany; the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany and Engagement Global, Germany. The imitative is part of the global inclusive project of Africa Action titled, “Inclusive education in Action: Worldwide experiences”, being implemented in African Countries, including Ghana, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Germany, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. The project in Ghana titled “inclusive vocational training for physically disabled and socially disadvantaged youth in Northern Ghana-IVTNG” was implemented by Don Bosco Youth Network West Africa (DBYN). The overall aim for the project is to enhance the socio-economic conditions of physically disabled and disadvantaged young people by creating enabling institutional environment and training possibilities for them to develop careers, create jobs, and become integrated in society. In line with this objective, SANTECH formed part of five (5) other preselected institutions which have been materially, structurally, infrastructurally and pedagogically prepared as inclusive educational centres. The change envisaged by this project was that inclusive education for all strives to transform livelihoods and empower youngsters seeking to learn relevant skills so as to improve their career prospects, income and professional status. Youngster with disabilities encounter physical barriers to education, among which includes pathways and ramps, inclusive curricula, tailored tools and equipment for practice learning. These constrains denies such people equality of opportunities in the job market and contribute to worsening poverty, inequalities and marginalisation in society.
3.1 Component of the inclusive education project at SAN TECH
The delivery of Inclusive Education requires institutional, and behavioural changes to provide possibility for a new way of thinking. These changes may act like cornerstones, which help trainees to look forward to the future. In view of this, the IE project at SAN TECH mainly seeks to create enabling environments and re-package education delivery by addressing the multisectoral barriers impeding the inclusion of disabled youngsters in education. Specially, the project ensured that the school infrastructure, curriculum, teaching pedagogies, professional development of TVET staff and the provision of teaching and learning resources are enhanced to address the diverse needs of deprived youth. In the long term, this will create opportunities for training of youngster with disabilities, enabling them obtain jobs in the labour market and ensuring their integration into society. In rural Ghana, education access and equality of opportunities in the labour market remains a challenge to deprived youth and disabled youngsters. Hence, concrete actions are needed to make education more attractive to unemployed youth. Consequently, the main components of the IVTNG project included advocacy, infrastructure, teacher capacity building, retooling and tailored-equipment support, communication and public education activities to promote disability awareness, community recognition and thus, easy transitioning of the disabled youngsters after graduation into the job market. The outcomes and effects of the IVTNG project includes the following:
3.2 Developed capacities of pedagogical staff for inclusive education practice
To ensure the sustainability of IE delivery, the teachers at the school were offered training for three days in two rounds (2018) at the school. Both trainings reached out to teachers, national services personnel, non-teaching staff, and volunteers. The main topics covered in these trainings included: understanding child vulnerability, responding to child vulnerability in IE environment; screening, identification, assessment and support (SIAS), understanding curriculum differentiation among others. The outcome of the training was that it positively impacted the core teaching/non-teaching staff on issues hindering the participation of deprived and disabled youngsters in education access. All teachers were unskilled in inclusive education. Hence, within the project period, SAN TECH participated in several management training workshops and sensitisation programs. These workshops stressed on issues of child vulnerability, establishment of inclusive structures, local project steering committees and planning for inclusive education delivery in the school. The participants learned about the multi-sectoral approaches needed for the development of vulnerable and excluded children. School Heads and Staff were provided materials for 'internal advocacy, planning and awareness raising. Following the training of the management and pedagogical staff, the school was able to offer admission to 165 youngsters with disabilities in the 2019-2020 academic year. This figure represents 7% of the current student population of 2498 (figure for 2019-2020) who now have opportunity to specialise in specific course areas of their choice. This was made possible because the trainings changed the teacher's orientation, attitudes, teaching methods and strategies, ensuring that teaching and learning become child-centred and needs-driven. In addition, two (2) phases of Management and Teaching Staff Trainings were conducted during the project period. One day (each phase) residential workshop was organized for the school management. Again, this was followed by three days training in school for the Teaching Staff in each phase, reaching out to a total of 110 pedagogical staff. During the first phase trainings, half-day sensitisation seminars were organised for the non-teaching (auxiliary) staff and all students. During the second phase training, executives of district/zonal societies of PWDs were also sensitized. Again, in phase two, a one day student disability orientation exercise reached out to all the population of the school. Generally, disabled people are now accepted as part of the mainstream training system. Most remarkably, apart from strengthening and empowering the already existing school committees, a “school-based support team” has been established and trained while the management of the school have been equipped and can now screen the different youth groups, enabling them to easily identify, categorise and provide tailored support (emotional, physical, health, etc) for beneficiaries with related health and physical impairments. The teachers (professional and non-professional) participated in internationally accredited capacity building workshops, local and international management meetings which enabled them exchange knowledge, learn best international practices and inculcated same into their local school contexts. For instance, Ghana hosted an international workshop and pedagogical training for all the TVET staff in Tamale from 29th October to 2nd November 2018. There were thirty-three (33) participants from Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Niger, Sierra-Leone, South Africa and Tanzania). Among the national actors who also participated in these international trainings included the Metropolitan/Municipal Coordinating Coordinators, the Education Officers, and associations of persons with disabilities. These training of trainers (TOT) activities equipped staff of the school to integrate international standards with local pedagogies for inclusive TVET and SHTS delivery. Physically disabled trainees at SAN TECH are no longer denied admission at the school on grounds of lack of knowledge of managing such trainees. SANSEC now has become a “model” inclusive, offering admissions and career relevant training to deprived youngsters and trainees with disabilities. Another positive outcome of the TOT is that it equipped the school managers to be able to use education management information systems to collect data on disabled trainees, particularly with respect to disability, enrolment, retention, monitoring transition, and taking informed actions on their performance.
Rehabilitated existing school facilities for inclusion and increasing education access
The IVTNG project at SAN TECH have had different levels of effects in the physical school structures and environment. Foremost, ramps and pathways have been created which now links all structures and facilities in the school. Wheelchair restraints and students using clutches can now move freely and access all school structures (workshops, classrooms, library, dormitories etc) without impediments. Meanwhile, the sensitization of teachers, management and students enabled the creation of better, friendly and more inclusive learning environments. These activities have increased possibilities for admission and training of socially deprived and disabled young people. Physically disabled trainees can now freely move around the school without or with minimal support. Again, the entire student population of 2498, teaching and non-teaching staff have been sensitized on disability awareness. The outcome of these activities resulted into the modification of trainees' routine activities including cleaning, washing, cooking, sports, debates/clubs, entertainment and “manual work” etc have been reformed to be inclusive and disability friendly. Measures for safe access to sanitation and water have been introduced and made part of routine school activities. These measures have resulted into change in perceptions/attitudes, general acceptance of disabled trainees, better knowledge and awareness about their needs, increased confidence and acceptance of disabled trainees among their peers. At Sandema, the evidence this project has shown is that inclusive education can be realised if society and government focus more on breaking environmental and physical barriers in schools which work against accessibility and inclusion of disabled youngsters.
Coordinated health screening for identification, assessment and support
To change domestic (family/household level) perceptions associated with disability in the communities, parents, education officers and health experts were involved in determining and planning against issues related to health, transportation for trainees to school, motivation and career choices of trainees. The project also conducted a vision, physical and hearing assessment tests for all visual/hearing impaired students and where necessary (as per recommendation of health practitioners), provided assistive devices for visually or physically impaired students across the six northern regions. These health promotions in the school and within the communities encouraged attendance, facilitated effective learning and strengthened early detection and referral pathways for trainees who required additional or urgent care and support in professional medical facilities.
Increased socio-economic prospects and labour market access of disable trainees
At SAN TECH, the change envisaged by the IE project was that empowering the deprived youth and disabled youngsters through vocational/technical skills training will lead to improved self-independence and employment through the creation of sustainable and decent jobs, improve self-worth/dignity, social acceptance and thereby, possibilities for their reintegration and inclusion into the socio-economic sectors of their communities. To this effect, the project strongly involved the local communities and parents in enabling inclusion of disable trainees both at the school and at domestic levels. Trainees were made to choose from the available education programmes and were subsequently linked to specific industries for off-campus practical learning experience where possible. This industrial-led and job-service training offered trainees opportunities for direct access to the job market post-training. A link between small-medium scale enterprises and the institute is currently enabling the school to readapt its training content in line with job market needs and have also increased job prospects of the trainees. Unlike other IE initiatives, a major element of the IE project at SAN TECH is its business ownership component. This component provided a combination of support in the form of tools and equipment, technical support and or small grant (start-up capital) for extremely poor but promising trainees with compelling business ideas post-completion. These unique trainee businesses served as “community-based models”, showcasing what disabled trainees can do in their communities and also serving as motivation for others. Trainees who access these facilities were not expected to payback financially. They are provided with business coaching, financial literacy training and business mentorship, so they employ themselves and also employ others from their neighbourhoods. The selection process of awardees was composed of a competent team constituted by the school. The beneficiary trainees who have so far graduated from the SAN TECH now have opportunities to either become self-employed or obtain employment elsewhere and thus meaningfully contribute to the development of their communities.
Retooled and equipped laboratories to enable practical teaching and learning
The capacity to competently deliver an inclusive TVET programme requires that teaching materials and tools be supplied in right quantities and specifically designed to fit-for-purpose. This is because, the project baseline revealed a major barrier to TVET training is assistive devices and suitable tools for use by disabled trainees. Thus, unlike the current trend where tools are supplied in TVET schools without taking into consideration “diversity of learning needs”, in this project, there was the need to do things differently. To this end, as part of the requirements for inclusion, the project supply teaching aids, learning materials, tools and equipment to the institute. The various departments of SBTVI i.e. Building and Construction, Welding and Fabrication, Fashion and Design have been retooled and now able to admit and train young people with disabilities. What is unique about this that the tools and equipment were specifically designed and tailored to support individual trainees' needs and youngsters with disabilities. This went a long way to remove the need for them to go borrowing tools especially for their practical's and during external examinations. Moreover, the learning materials and training methods were reviewed and where necessary, readapted to suite the learning conditions and needs of disabled trainees. Though the outcomes have been generally positive, continuous funding from government through the free SHS policy should be extended to all public SHS. Again, the national scholarship secretariat should continue to provide subsidies, scholarships or completely exempt disabled and deprived trainees from fee payment to ensure that financial barriers do not hinder disabled kids from education access in second cycle schools.
Readapted and delivered tailored TVET curricula from trainees' perspective
The training philosophies and practical activities at SANTECH have been modified/ readjusted in line with the national inclusive learning curricula. More specifically, the training curricula has been adapted, with emphasis on proficiency development, to enable training and assessment possibilities for illiterate and or slow learners, thus minimising rate of failure among disabled and deprived students who have literacy deficiencies. A loaded and hurriedly delivered curriculum do not only contribute to ill-equip graduates, but also, contributes to lowering education standards. In line with the IE policy of Ghana, what was done differently by this project was to ensure that the school, its curricula, assessment procedures and teaching and learning materials are accessible and fair for all trainees. Consequently, training on curriculum differentiation, understanding child vulnerability, measures for assessment, identification and support, inclusive practical pedagogies, responding to child vulnerable in an inclusive education setting and IE support structures have been established at SANTECH. The outcomes have been impressive. The school has inserted a flexible examination structure that permits trainees to sit for and be examined in diverse forms to meet the diverse training needs of the students. The GES examination standards are used for trainees pursuing SHS education. Learners with deficiencies and who cannot cope with the strict SHS systems are encouraged to sit for proficiency level training while extra classes are provided to bring such trainees up-to-speed and resolve their learning deficits. Generally, all the teachers who had never benefited from capacity building programmes were empowered with skills and are now better able to deliver content and use appropriate materials based on informed understanding on inclusive learning and skills training. Since disabled trainees have diverse learning needs, the training on curricula also focused on inclusive delivery and assessment methodologies, the use of individualised approaches as well as diversity and disability etiquettes and disability-sensitive communication methods. These inclusive systems considerably improved admission of deprived youngsters and children living with disabilities. Currently, a total of 450 trainees composed of hearing (98 youth), visual (178 youth), physically impaired (22), socially deprived (152) have benefited from the IE project across the six (6) regions in the northern part of the country. These young people who otherwise would have been deprived of skills and access to jobs are now being empowered and have/or due to be graduated with nationally accredited certificates to meaningfully contribute to the development of the communities.
Created networks and mobilised stakeholders towards Inclusive TVETT delivery
Collaboration with other organizations and agencies is essential for training and employment of disable youngsters. Thus, to break the existing socio-economic barriers at the community level, the project embarked on communication, advocacy and publication education drive. This activity did not only increase awareness and acceptance of the beneficiaries, but also made it possible to lessen the negative perceptions against disable youngsters in the school. Events including sensitisation of parents during PTA meetings, school graduation ceremonies and radio announcements in native languages spoken (Gurune (Frafra), Nankani, Kassem, Taleni, Nadam, Kusal, Buli and Bisah etc) were used to engage the communities. These initiatives significantly disbanded negative perceptions and attitudes the communities had about disabled youngsters. Again, partnerships with local and national stakeholders (GES, NVTI, Assemblies etc), religious institutions and traditional authorities inserted and streamlined the project into the broader national inclusive education policy. Inclusion of these partners become relevant for scalability and continued governmental support for beneficiaries of the project post-implementation. To sustain these gains, the project admonishes GES to increase admission for physically disabled students in the school. Similarly, the Computerised School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) should increase allocation of youngsters with disabilities to the school.
Educating disabled youngsters is critical so they can take opportunities in the job market. In doing so, there, is the need to make education inclusive. The strategy towards achieving inclusive education require comprehensive approach that addresses institutional barriers, labour market access and broader community inclusion. These approaches include the provision of teaching and materials, teacher capacity building, rehabilitation of learning environment, suitable curricula and awareness creation through public education. At SANTECH, most of these barriers which existed have been eliminated and a generally welcoming training environment now exist in the school. Therefore, disabled youngsters who are interested in vocational education should take existing opportunities to train and acquire skills offered by the school.
By Prosper Bazaanah
Don Bosco Youth Network West Africa