Inclusive education has been internationally recognized as a means of attaining equity, justice and quality education for all learners, especially those who have been traditionally excluded from mainstream education for reasons of disability, ethnicity, gender, giftedness or other characteristics. According to UNESCO, inclusive education is defined as a process of addressing and responding to the diverse needs of all learners by increasing partication in learning and reducing exclusion within and from education. This means that all learners have the right to a quality education that caters, to the extent possible, for their individual needs. Some countries around the world including some states and schools in Nigeria have been successful in promoting inclusive education policies and practices.
Inclusive education is ‘Education for All’. It is about removing barriers to learning and involving all learners who otherwise would have been excluded through marginalization and segregation; a process aimed at offering quality education for all while respecting diversity. Inclusive education helps to facilitate learning and equally enhances access, inclusion, participation for both teachers and learners diversities in the teaching/learning process. It ensures that the education system adapts to the learners so that they can achieve their full potential rather than expecting the learners to adapt to the system. It is a process of strengthening the education system to reach out to all learners.
The Nigerian Government is committed to ensuring Education for All. Nigeria is one of the signatories to the Salamanca Declaration-1994, Dakar Framework for Action -2000, and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities-2006 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by UN in 2015 in which education of learners with special Needs is to be implemented through an inclusive Education (IE) approach. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria strongly protects human rights on all grounds. The National Policy on Education (NPE) guarantees education for all without any discrimination while the UBEC Act-2004 emphasizes free and compulsory education of all Nigerian children of school age irrespective of their diverse needs. Furthermore, the National Policy on Education indicates the need for inclusion of children with Special Needs Education (SNE) and other strategies for reducing dropout rates in primary education. The core value of these treaties and policy documents is that all children have the right to receive the kind of education that does not discriminate on any grounds such as ethnicity, religion, economic status, language, gender, disability etc.
However, the gifted and talented learners are not excluded in this arrangement. This policy document ensures that adequate provisions are made to accommodate the learning processes of this group through curriculum compacting, enrichment and acceleration. The provision of support services, teaching and learning aids such as Braille machines and other devices for learners with visual impairment and sign language interpreters for learners with hearing impairment would ensure the effective implementation of Inclusive Education (IE) in Nigeria.
The draft policy document, therefore, is intended to address the challenges associated with the inclusion of Nigerian children with disabilities and unmet learning needs into the school system. It is a national benchmark that would set the minimum standard for the effective implementation of inclusive education in Nigeria. It is our conviction that this policy will pave the way for greater access to quality education and in the process reduce the number of out of school learners nationwide.
The development of education in Nigeria follows the same trend as in most other countries of the world. The National Policy on Education addressed different sections of education including special education. The practice of special education in Nigeria started with segregation, by the missionaried championing the course of children with special needs. In 1974, there was direct government involvement in catering for the education and rehabilitation of people with disabilities. The Federal Ministry of Education provided the much needed leadership by establishing a Special Education Unit within the Ministry with clear policy provisions and guidelines to support implementation. As a result there has been a shift from segregation to integration and some forms of mainstreaming at secondary level of learners with hearing, visual, physical and health impairments. However, there is a clear gap in mainstreaming at primary school level and even at secondary level. Mainstreaming was often not accompanied by changes in the organization of the regular schools, neither in the ways in which schools were organized. There was little or no interaction between children attending regular classes and children with disabilities.
Special Education has been described as classroom or private instructions involving unconventional techniques, materials, exercises, facilities and subject matter designed for learners who have one form of disability or the other such as behavioral disorders or learning disabilities, the gifted and talented. The design of special education delivery system in many schools encouraged isolation. The need to follow inclusive education trend in Nigeria became necessary in an effort to remove barriers that encourage exclusion. Exclusion over the years has widened the gap between the learners and learning environment. Inclusive education initiative has come at a time when the world has realized its benefits and ensuring that all learners are both included in the classroom and in quality learning.
In Nigeria, as well as in other developing countries, government has recognized the importance of inclusive education in promoting social justice and equity. One major difficulty that Nigeria and other countries face is, ensuring that human resources development can support these important initiatives. Inclusive education is a reflection of a vision of an education system that includes all learners and caters for a wide diversity in the learner population. This shift in policy is also reflected in the framework of action on Special Needs Education as championed by UNESCO which argues that schools should accommodate all learners regardless of their physical, intellectual, social emotional, linguistic or other conditions. Inclusive education system therefore means reducing all forms of exclusive and promoting access, equity and participation.
Inclusive education is premised on the fact that if the right to education for all is to be upheld, all learners must have access to quality education that meets their basic learning needs and enrich their lives. Education is not only about making schools available to those who are able to access them but it is about being proactive in identifying barriers and obstacles learners encounter. In an attempt to access opportunities for quality education as well as removing those barriers that lead to exclusion, effective strategies and proactive actions should be taken by all relevant stakeholders in providing the enabling environment for all.
The national Policy planning and implementation should be reflected in the comparative allocation of National Budget and in requests for development assistance from International Partners and the Private Sector; There should be continuous political will by governments at all levels and other relevant stakeholders towards full implementation of the policy and its sustainability; Federal Ministry of Education, state ministries of education and local government especially, schools, CSOs and parents to buy into and support the implementation of the policy; There should be continuous advocacy by government and its relevant agencies in support of inclusive education which will help to sustain the tempo; and partnership should be built by Federal Ministry of Education and other relevant agencies and departments with other non-state actors for effective implementation and sustainability of the policy.