Even though Adebola Adedimi graduated from the Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo, the only college of special education in Sub-Saharan Africa located in Jobele, Afijio Local Government Area in Oyo state, with an outstanding grade, she has refused to become a special education teacher.
In her class at the Students with Intellectual Disabilities or SID special area, none of her 26 other coursemates is practising as a special education teacher.
“I wanted to study accountancy in a university, but because my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination score did not match up, I resorted to a National Certificate in Education (NCE) in Home Economics at a special school,” she explains to Prime Progress.
How fortune shaped Adedimi’s education is synonymous with the fate of almost all the 40,263 graduates and 10,500 students currently studying at the institution. It is also a counterbalance for students conditioned into this field in the few Nigerian universities offering it.
The acute effect is felt by students with disabilities who struggle to circumvent the barriers life has placed at their door and get themselves a proper education but cannot find qualified teachers willing to teach them.
Isaiah Adebare is one of them, he has a visual impairment. Even though he is enrolled in a government-owned special school, he doesn't think that the quality of education in his school matches global standards.
“Many a time, there might be no teacher to teach us some subjects exhaustively. Every time I have tried to test myself with my able peers, I discover that I am lacking in many areas that are not connected to my disabilities but to the quality of delivery in my school,” the 19-year-old said.
Even as Adebare is a shining light in his class, the differences between his classmates and their abled colleagues bring him to tears.
His mother, Hidaayat Adebare, explains that she has been on a search for a private tutor for her child for months with no success.
“I can’t say exactly why he (Isiah) loves formal education that much. I am motivated to help him achieve his dream of becoming a lawyer. But he has repeatedly complained that the system could make it difficult for him. He goes to school daily with grief and despair because teachers in his school are grossly inadequate”, She revealed.
Isaiah, with many other students with disabilities, according to his mother, would love to utilise this period of long vacation to make up for what they might have missed, but the moment tutors hear that they are with disabilities, they either 'scornfully’ announce that they don’t teach students with disabilities or indifferently inform their guardians that they are not trained to do so.
Living with a disability could be very tricky in Nigeria, and being a parent to a child with disabilities is tricky too, but Adebare has refused to give in to social stereotypes and has sworn to give her son a quality education, but the struggle to find professional special education teachers has been frustrating.
Meanwhile, at least, one in every eight Nigerians is with a disability or another, and the lack of investment in the training and proper remuneration for special education teachers is depriving a sizable number of the country's population of basic education.
The Adebare‘s repeatedly maintain that if individuals who attend institutions meant for special education trainers see the lengthy period of training only as the “last option better than nothing”, then the country and its stakeholders in the education sector have to do something very quickly to assuage the labour shortages.
The grass is not green at the other side for us
Victoria Ajayi is a professional special educator. In her opinion, the cost of educating students living with disabilities is twice that of those without it.
“Regrettably, the government and private school owners are not ready to support us. They hardly employ us, and private school owners are not ready to pay us salaries that match our colleagues who teach the able students.” Ajayi thinks that until the gap in the area of remuneration is filled, many of them will desist from practising.
Though there are 1,177 special needs schools in Nigeria, Robbiat Hammed, with a background in Communication and Behavioural Disorder, agrees that students with disability struggle profusely to see willing teachers to take them.
“They (special schools) are not ready to pay us, forgetting that impacting students with disabilities comes with huge demands. I will rather teach the albe students and get my money,” she objects.
Hammed added that on a few occasions when she had heard that some special schools were recruiting and had shown interest and willingness to join them, the working conditions have always been unfavourable.
“I am to leave my base to work in a state I don’t know, but these people (school management) are not willing to offer me basic life necessities such as water or electricity in the accommodation provided. It is demoralising”, she said.
Hammed said she would rather not practise than teach special students for next to nothing.
Removing the thorns
Nigeria has a duty to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities among its citizens regardless of physical, mental or psychological conditions.
Now that the majority of students with disabilities are technically left out due to inadequate manpower, Hammed suggests that governments at all levels should specifically support schools to expand and properly cover issues around access, especially for students with disabilities.
“I and many others will practise if these schools can match up with the others. If you want people to troop into the cause, you have to impress them. Government should support both private and public establishments dedicated to the cause.”
In Ajayi’s view, until the government rolls out a special window for employment opportunities for special educators, Isaiah Adebare and many other students with disabilities will continue to struggle with low-quality education.