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Why investment in special needs education should be prioritised post-COVID-19

As the Federal and State governments map out strategies towards the reopening of schools, a call has gone out for the investment in special needs education, to effectively close the inequality gaps in learning.

Education stakeholders and frontline non-governmental organisation on special education, the Inclusive Education and IEP Centre (IEIEPC) has urged governments to help cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the learning and development of children with special needs.

Oyeyinka Oluwawumi, director of IEIEPC said there is the need to cater for children with special needs to ensure their development is not overly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oluwawumi while speaking recently at a webinar for parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers and government agencies on special education said there is need to engage children, study them to discover hidden potentials, seek to understand their temperament and inculcate healthy living styles in them.

Tolu Eniolorunda, president, International Association of Special Educators, Nigerian chapter while speaking at the webinar with the theme, ‘Supporting Children and Persons with Special Needs’ called on parents and family relations of children with special needs to take the opportunity provided by the ongoing school closure to understand the strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities of those children with special needs to enable them give the appropriate kinds of support necessary for the realisation of their potentials.

According to Eniolorunda, “This lockdown period caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic offers a significant advantage to parents, teachers and caregivers of children with special needs to give more attention to this category of children.

“Prior to now, most parents were too busy with so many engagements that they never really had time for them hence the lack of awareness of the abilities of these children. All parents of special needs children should take full advantage of the period to understand and appreciate their abilities so they can support them accordingly,” she said.

Speaking at the occasion, Olufemi Fakolade, a special educator and former head, department of Special Education, University of Ibadan, decried the severe impact the current classroom closure would have on the education and general development of special needs children, while citing unavailability of resources such as equipment, Internet access, specially designed materials and trained manpower support as inhibiting factors.

While offering insights on how to maximize online classes, Fakolade enjoined special education teachers to draw up a list of top virtual learning applications, study their features and apply them appropriately I line with the peculiarities of each individual child.

“We need to understand the peculiar challenges and attributes of the individual child. There are some apps like Zoom, WhatsApp, Cisco WebEx, Google Classroom, Virtual Classrooms, Schoology and Learning Management system that can be adapted to teach our children with special needs. The teacher with the support of parents can manipulate them to accommodate the peculiarities of these students and their syllabus”, she said.

While calling on government at all levels to play active roles in urgently addressing all factors that hamper access to quality education of special needs children, John Oyundoyin, renowned special educator, called for the recognition of caregivers as essential service providers and inclusion of disability organisations workers into the COVID-19 taskforce because of their better understanding of these categories of people.

The webinar, which drew participants from several states including; Akwa Ibom, Osun, Enugu, Ogun and Lagos, as well as, Abuja was put together to help parents, guardians, relations and caregivers of children while they strive to appreciate their challenges.

The IEIEPC is a non-governmental organisation devoted to improving the lives of special needs children and persons through advocacy and enlightenment campaign for inclusion, providing services, training teachers, parents and other stakeholders on issues of inclusive education, special education and individualised educational planning in unique ways that improve the quality of life and maximise the learning potentials of persons with special needs.

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