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General News of Monday, 4 May 2020

Source: Starr FM

Coronavirus: Students with disabilities face exclusion from education

Thousands of students with disabilities are having a tough time catching up with academic work as schools remain shut due to COVID-19 restrictions.

While able students can latch unto Television platforms and other virtual systems to continue teaching and learning; these students with hearing, visual and intellectual impairments are simply unable to cope.

What’s more worrisome; several of these students have pending final year exams and end of semester examinations which they are mandated to write alongside their able colleagues.

Kojo Safo is a hearing impaired Senior High School student at the Mampong Akuapem School for the Deaf in the Eastern Region. Since school closed, he has been living with his mother, a seamstress also hearing impaired at Anloga in Kumasi.

Through an interpreter, he signed how he has been coping with academic work all these seven weeks.

“When I wake up, I tidy up my room, find something to eat and then go around socializing with my friends. I sometimes work mathematics when I see the studies going on, on television,” He communicated.

Students like Kojo Safo have to rely on the limited sign language done on just a few lower-level courses on the GTV Learning platform; a content not enough to cover Junior and Senior High Syllabus.

A hearing-impaired teacher with the Jamasi School for the deaf Francis Boateng Sarpong related to the exclusion his students are bound to face with the closure of schools, while their ‘able’ colleagues continue to benefit from virtual studies.

“Most of the parents are poor and cannot afford laptops or internet access for their children. The parents could have helped to teach but they also don’t know how to sign. Now all of them are at home and there is nothing for them to learn and nobody to teach them,” he signed.

Francis Boateng Sarpong who doubles as vice president of the Ashanti Region chapter of the Ghana Federation for Disability Organisations told Ultimate News, he will prefer that government considers calling back especially final year students to continue studies while observing COVID 19 infection prevention and control protocols.

“We have a big space at Jamase. We can do the social distancing and teach them how to wash and keep themselves from COVID 19,” he suggested through an interpreter.

The situation is not so different from the challenges faced by visually impaired students.

A totally blind Senior High School Student Richmond Osei Bonsu told reporter Ivan Heathcote – Fumador he has software that aids him to research on the phone.

Unfortunately, though, he lives in the last house at the backside of Paakoso in a town called Te Wo Baabi where the data network is as good as nothing.

“I have a talkback and voice assistant software on my phone which talks back to me. There are a number of search engines but I prefer Google chrome for my research. In this place, we have a poor network and whenever I want to research I have to let someone send me to the old town. And I don’t get the chance to meet my colleagues to explain things to me when I don’t understand,” he described.

He indicated that although he has heard about the GTV Learning platform; he has never owned a television set because of his visual impairment.

The Ashanti Region president of the Ghana Federation for Disability Organisations Alfred Amponsah Tebi is worried blind students might find it overly challenging coping with the GES alternative Television platforms which have no room for questioning illustrations and pictures being shown to the blind viewer.

He observed, “On the TV it flashes and it goes but if you are in the classroom, you can ask the teacher and your instructor can put it in brail and give to you. Most of the students don’t also have laptops to download and read them later with assistive software,”

At the tertiary level, some students that Ultimate News contacted complained about the inability of their phone-assistive-apps, to support the online conferencing platforms, poor network access in rural areas and the cost of purchasing data.

Some others complained they do not even have access to laptops and advanced phones to support virtual learning.

UNESCO defines inclusive education in the two shades of access and ability to participate fully in education with no barriers of disability.

It, however, appears COVID-19 has not only exposed lapses in Ghana’s health care system but laid bare the dire neglect for Inclusive Education in Ghana’s education set up.

These students are clearly left frustrated, struggling to find their feet, and the longer schools remain closed the farther behind these students with special needs are being left behind the educational cycle.

The sad developments come at a time Ghana’s President holds an eminent position in the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal which advocates universal access to education without barriers of distance, cost or any other considerations of discrimination in Goal 4.

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