Love Without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: For Truly Inclusive Education, No Child Should Be Left Behind

Inclusive education is no longer a strange word. Thankfully, more and more schools are now open to the idea. However, there are a few things you should know before admitting children with disabilities and special learning needs.

It is important to note that there is a difference between a child living with a disability and a child that has special educational needs. A child with any of these neurological disorders, autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Down Syndrome, may not have any form of special educational needs (which may include: learning disability or difficulty).

Special educational needs (SEN) is about education. While disability is about your body, your brain, your senses being wired and tapped in a unique way.

Taking it further, my daughter is 5 years old. She is unable to sit and stand unsupported. She cannot use her hands by herself and her speech is not very clear. This is because she has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder which affects the part of the brain that controls the muscles.

In spite of these disabilities, she participates in class. She is doing very well with her academics; her tests are done orally. She even participated in her school’s Spelling Bee even though we had to be patient with her to go at her own pace in pronouncing the words.

What helped my daughter was locating a school that was willing and open to make adjustments by becoming more accommodating. Secondly, the presence of a learning support (an assistant teacher/nanny) in the classroom and the provision of a chair with support.

When she started schooling at the age of two, she was in toddlers’ class. The primary learning focus of this class is, learning alphabet sounds, numbers and nursery rhymes. At that age, this form of learning is basic for most children; with or without disability. Even though my daughter could not talk at that age nor did she show any form assimilation, yet years later she proved to us that she was assimilating everything going on in her environment.

That is one of the reasons I would suggest to parents of children with disability to enroll their children at an early age. I would also implore schools not to reject children with disabilities. Mainstream education is one of the many early intervention programs that can help children with disabilities to make progress.
Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. A child needs a stimulating environment with lots of different activities that give her plenty of ways to play and learn, and lots of chances to practise what she’s learning.

Research has shown that the first five years of life (especially the first three years) are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a child’s development – the things the child sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes – stimulate their brain, creating millions of connections. Therefore, early intervention (which includes mainstream education) is critical for a child with developmental disabilities.

The second thing I would love to explain is the difference between intellectual disability, learning disorder, learning disability and learning difficulties. It is pertinent to note that on the Internet there are different definitions which may be confusing. However, if you follow the simple explanation below it will become much easier to understand.

An intellectual disability describes below-average IQ and a lack of skills needed for daily living. This condition used to be called ‘mental retardation.’ People with intellectual disabilities can and do learn new skills, but they learn them more slowly. There are varying degrees of intellectual disability, from mild to profound. (Please note that in the UK, intellectual disability is used interchangeably with learning disability. For the purpose of this article, they will be differentiated.)

Learning disability is an umbrella term for a wide variety of learning problems. Some people use learning disability and learning disorder interchangeably. I would rather say that learning disorder is a type of learning disability. An example of a learning disorder is dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a condition that makes it hard to learn to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols. It happens when there is a problem with the way the brain processes graphic symbols.

The problem in dyslexia is a linguistic one, not a visual one. Dyslexia in no way stems from any lack of intelligence. People with severe dyslexia can be brilliant. Although it is a neurological condition, dyslexia is not linked to intelligence. It is not the result of poor teaching, instruction, or upbringing. They aren’t lazy or dumb. In fact, most are just as smart as everyone else. Their brains are simply wired differently. This difference affects how they receive and process information.

However, once you understand how to teach a child with this condition then learning becomes fun. Techniques usually involve tapping into the child’s senses, including touch, vision, and hearing. For example, you can activate such a child’s sense of touch by having her trace letters on a list of sight words with her fingers. The child may also cut the letters out on a sandy paper and have her trace the scratchy surface while saying out the letter names or the words. Have her write the word in the air with her pointer and middle finger and say it out loud.

A learning difficulty may simply mean that a child is not very good at a subject but with much effort, the right teacher, the right teaching method and constant practice this child can learn that subject to a good degree. A good example is my personal experience. I studied law because I just didn’t like numbers. However, the truth of the matter is that I have never truly dedicated enough time and effort to learn it. At the back of my mind I kept saying I don’t need it so I didn’t just bother to learn it.
In conclusion, having a physical or neurological disability is not synonymous with having an intellectual disability or a learning disability. Having a learning disorder or a learning disability doesn’t mean a child cannot go to school to learn with his or her peers. All that child may need is a different teaching method or assessment method.

Not having hands, e.g an amputee or not being able to use one’s hands, e.g. due to cerebral palsy or stroke doesn’t mean a child cannot go to school. My daughter’s case has taught me that no child should be left behind. All that may be needed is a little more patience in teaching and tests could be done orally.
A child with speech impairment can go to school, with a little patience, you can agree on other ways for this child to communicate his or her answers. As ridiculous as this may sound, if a child’s assessment is limited to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ the child may be required to blink or nod in a certain way to communicate his or her answer to a question.

Also remember that there are lots of assisted technology or simple communication boards that can help children with speech impairment. A communication board is a board with symbols or pictures that is used to facilitate communication for children with limited expressive language ability. Children communicate using the board by pointing and gesturing or gazing at the various symbols and pictures.

Indeed, if you have an open mind, you would always find a way to teach or reach out to that child in your classroom who needs a little extra help. With a heart of love, commitment and patience, no child would be left behind.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: How to Achieve a Truly Inclusive Education System for Children with Disabilities

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a parents and teachers conference on promoting inclusive education. I told the teachers that in a few years’ time they would be required to obtain inclusive teaching skills to meet diverse students’ needs in their classrooms.

I told them that a time will come it would be a trend to have a child with special needs in their schools. This is because having special needs students in your classrooms will show the level of acceptance, creativity and technology advancement the school has to offer every child that attends their classes.
It will also prove to the parents that no child will be left behind with his/her studies. I encouraged the teachers to prepare for that day.

It may seem like this is farfetched but I must tell you that the world is gradually embracing inclusion.

Last year, I visited a public primary school in Lagos Mainland, Nigeria. The school accepts children with disabilities, so the school is referred to as an inclusive unit.

However, in reality, the school is anything but certainly not an inclusive unit.

What is Inclusive Education? According to Inclusive Education Guide for Families, it is:

  • One system of education for all
  • Individualised for each child or learner
  • It is child-centred, and listens to all perspectives
  • A system which meets the particular needs of every child
  • A system capable of modifying itself to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable
  • A system where every child has equal opportunity
  • It is not static, it’s a process which continually develops our understanding of how we can best accommodate each person.

The inclusive school I visited in Lagos mainland kept about 80 special needs children in two classes. During break time all the children in the regular classes came out to play but the special needs kids remained in their classrooms. The two classes had children with different disabilities, hearing impaired, cerebral palsy, learning disability and Autism. I wondered how they were been taught. The teachers are more focused at providing vocational skills than teaching numeracy and literacy. The teachers, I believe are trying their best but you can’t give what you do not have.

The inclusive unit has only one care giver, an elderly woman. They are short of well trained staff. As at the time of my visit, there were no trainers in their vocational room.
My question is this: what are the children learning?

If I am to attempt to answer this question, for that person that created the inclusive unit, the fact that the children can leave their houses in the morning and their parents can say they have gone to school is simply adequate.

You may say the children are treated this way because it is a public school but there are many private schools who run this model of teaching children with special needs—segregation. Some private mainstream schools collect lots of money from parents who have children with special needs on the claim that they are practicing inclusion. However, what the schools do not tell the parents is that their children are kept in a separate class away from their peers. The children are hidden in a classroom where visitors to the school cannot see them.

Some private schools only teach the children nursery rhymes and the kids are never promoted from that class.

What are the principles guiding Inclusive Education? According to Inclusive Education Guide for Professionals:

Diversity enriches and strengthens all communities
All learners’ different learning styles and achievements are equally valued, respected and celebrated by society
All learners to be enabled to fulfil their potential by taking into account individual requirements and needs
Support to be guaranteed and fully resourced across the whole learning experience
All learners need friendship and support from people of their own age
All children and young people to be educated together as equals in their local communities
Inclusive Education is incompatible with segregated provision both within and outside mainstream education.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 24 states:-
1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to:

a. The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;

b. The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;

c. Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society. (full text of article 24 can be found at appendix 1)

Therefore, I can boldly say that inclusive education is not what you do out of sympathy, nor what you pay lip service to. It is not what you do solely to generate another source of income but it is what you do because it is the fundamental right of every child living with disability to go to school with his or her peers.

Dear school owners,
Accepting children with special needs into your schools is not enough. We want our children to be truly included.


Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Why are You Afraid of a Child with Disability?

In my quest to understand better the concept of inclusive education, I did a little research and discovered that in Denmark and some other European countries, inclusive education is seen as developing a school for everyone.
There is a national strategy for the implementation of inclusive education. Learners are seen as diverse individuals, and everyone can get support in their own studying group. Classrooms are therefore very diverse. Teacher education has also been redesigned to support the implementation of inclusive education. In Denmark, diversity is seen as a resource for development, and inclusive education as a means to address the challenges. I will discuss further about this in subsequent articles on how to run an effective inclusive school.

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with a mum who has a six year old daughter living with cerebral palsy. She complained that she had been trying to get a school that her daughter could attend without success. A school agreed to accept her daughter. Her daughter spent only one week at the school before she was asked to withdraw her. When the mother asked what happened, she was told that another mother who had three neuro-typical children (children developing normally) in the school threatened to remove her three children if the six years old girl was not asked to leave the school. Presently, this little girl is at home.

I have seen some children who have been asked to leave school because they can’t use their hands or talk. My daughter, Nimi is unable to use her hands and she doesn’t talk clearly, but she attends school and she does so well academically. It saddens me to see other children in her shoes who are denied the opportunity of going to school based on their physical challenges.

It is true that some schools do not have the requisite knowledge on handling children with disabilities. However, the easiest way to start is to have an open mind and to show empathy. There are non-profit organisations that train teachers on how to teach and manage children with additional needs. There is a lot of information on the internet.

Some schools that are willing to accept children with disabilities face opposition from other parents who do not have children with disabilities. I understand the fact that most schools are for profit making and would therefore make decisions that would protect their revenue. Often times these decisions involve withdrawing the admission of a child with disabilities. I have been told it is a sacrifice the school has to make so it doesn’t close down.

My question today is this: as a parent of a neuro-typical child (a child without disabilities) what are you afraid of? What are your fears? Why do you find it uncomfortable to have children who have disabilities attend the same school with your children?

I have heard statements such as ‘how can abnormal children be in the same class with normal children? Some parents call children with disabilities demons. My question is, have you seen a demon before? What does it look like? Disabled?
The Bible says that the head of demons was one of the most gorgeous creature God made. His appearance was beautiful and dazzling. He was covered with every precious stone: gold, sardius, topaz, diamond, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle.

Does that sound anything lower than perfection? Certainly not.
I have been to deliverance churches and I have seen beautiful sisters and brothers roll on the floor and manifest different spirits under the anointing. A child doesn’t need to have disability to be under strange influence.
Some parents say they do not like their children to associate with children that drool. The fact is I do not understand how the saliva will touch another child. Secondly, saliva is not poisonous. Thirdly, neuro-developmental disorder is not infectious in any way. It is a brain disorder, usually occurs at birth or early years of a child’s life.

Then permit me to pose this question: if in the future you become ill, let’s say stroke or Alzheimer’s disease would you prefer your child to abandon you or hide you in a room? You may say it is not your portion, but I have come to understand that the world is not a perfect place. I believe no one dreams of growing up to become dependent on others neither does anyone pray to have a child with disability.

Last month while speaking to a 21 years old girl living with a learning disorder and cerebral palsy, she immediately tried to cover her face. I told her not to apologise for who she is because she was not given an opportunity to choose her life; if she had, I bet she would have chosen to look like Agbani Darego.

On the other hand, which we are not too patient to discover, having children living with disabilities in our schools have benefits that cannot be overemphasized. It brings creativity into the classroom. The teacher may need to introduce creative ways to teach the child with special needs. Whatever method she comes up with will benefit other children who may be having difficulties in some subjects. The children will also make creative ways to speak or play with their disabled classmate. They will understand early that life is not perfect. They will learn to accept differences, show love and empathy to people especially those who are venerable.

The children we are shielding away from special needs children are the future leaders who would become doctors and scientist that would champion the search for a cure for developmental disorders. They are the future public workers who will make laws that would improve the welfare of people living with disabilities. They would ensure that people with disabilities have access into all public buildings. They would build roads and pedestrian bridges having in mind that physically challenged people will also use them. They will provide buses that have ramps and give concession to people with disability. They will provide parking spaces for disabled people that are close to the entrance of buildings. They will manage organisations that would employ people living with disabilities. They will pastor churches that speak to their congregations about loving their neighbours who have children that have disabilities.

Remember, not everyone is born with a disability some other people acquire a disability through their journey in life. No one knows tomorrow. Let’s make the world a better place for everyone.