Accra, Feb. 22, GNA - It is believed that a large number of children with disabilities in the country are currently out of school due to problems ranging from discrimination to lack of recognition of their potentials.
Currently there are only 5,000 children and youth with disabilities in educational institutions and undergoing training in various special schools.
The Minister of State in charge of Tertiary and Special Education, Ms Elizabeth Ohene, at the launch of the National Day on Disability and Inclusive Education in Accra on Wednesday, called for public recognition of the potentials of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) for their total development and independence.
Ms Ohene said a WHO report in 2001 following the 2000 Census put the total number of PWD in the country at about two million, out of which between 600,000 and 800,000 children of school going age were out of school.
She said it was sad that only a negligible number of children with disabilities could access education and stated that it was important to bridge the gap to achieve general parity in enrolment at the basic education level for the benefit of all. Ms Ohene called for joint efforts by all stakeholders in raising awareness on the need to develop positive attitudes toward persons and issues regarding disability so that they would be helped to become useful and independent.
The Minister said the Ministry was drawing up plans to vigorously re-introduce the policy of assessing the sight and hearing of all children, who entered Primary One and at regular intervals thereafter. "This is to ascertain across board any problems six-year-olds may have at that stage so that the necessary interventions would be made to prevent further deterioration of sight and hearing," she said. Ms Ohene explained that Inclusive Education, though very important, involved a change in Government's special education policy direction as disabled children would not be sent to special schools because of their handicaps, but would join the nearest mainstream schools to their homes. "Before this happens we have to first fight for attitudinal changes at all levels to ensure that society appreciates, recognise and respect the rights of all persons alike", she said. Mrs Susan Kennedy, Director Special Education Division (SpED), GES, affirmed that there was a gap in the Gross Enrolment Ratio, which was likely to be made up of mostly children with special education needs and said the screening exercise could address the issue to a large extent. She noted that with Ghana being a signatory to almost all the international conventions on human rights, it was the duty of the Government to ensure that all persons received equal attention when it got to education and other services that enhanced their development. Mrs Kennedy said the SpED was set up under the GES to ensure that all children with disability and those with special education needs would benefit from quality education to make them independent and employable.
She said the SpED, among other things, ensured the provision of infrastructure, education materials and requisite tools for training in the established special schools and rehabilitation centres. Mrs Kennedy said the Division was currently piloting inclusive education in 10 selected districts in the Greater Accra, Eastern and Central Regions.
"Other integrated educational programmes for children are also ongoing in various areas of the country with much support from foreign donors," she said.
Mrs Kennedy mentioned the role of the National Advocacy Committee on Disability (ACOD), which would initiate various action programmes to create awareness on the role, rights and needs of the disabled. She also called for financial and other support to ensure the removal of physical barriers to create a disability friendly environment and in the development of a National Strategic Plan for Inclusive Education.
She said until a general parity was achieved in enrolment in basic education, Ghana's aim at achieving the objectives of the Millennium Development Goal would be elusive by the year 2015.