Nigeria: ‘Out of School, Out Through Life’

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Dec 24 14:16:49 UTC 2008

'Out of School, Out Through Life'

First, they were referred to as 'disabled', 'handicapped' and then
'special needs' people. All these meant they were different and needed
to be treated as such. This in turn meant their exclusion from many
things, including education. But like the so- called 'able bodied',
being out of school for this group of people is a sure way to being
sidelined all through their lives, writes Bukola Olatunji

Victor Pineda was five when he could no longer walk due to Muscular
Dystrophy, a degenerative muscular disorder. His mother, Maria, saw
that he could not get the help he needed in their native Venezuela, so
she moved to the United States of America when Victor was seven
At a reception held for him by the United States Mission in Geneva,
Switzerland, recently, Pineda, now 30, recalled that he had just
turned seven, was in First Grade and could neither get around by
himself nor speak English.

But his first regular teacher at Roy O Andersen Elementary School,
Newport Beach, California, Mrs. Dearing, lived up to her name. He said
she made him feel included and, indeed, one of the most popular pupils
in the school. Among others, Dearing told the class that anyone who
helped Victor to get to the play area would get 15 minutes extra of
playtime, so everyone wanted to help Victor get around.

Thus began his growth and development to become a man, who is not
ashamed or sorry for who he is, but can hold his own anywhere, as he
did during the International Conference on Education (ICE), organised
by UNESCO's International Bureau of Education (IBE) in Geneva,
recently, which was what took him to Geneva in the first place.  The
invitation by the United States Mission in Geneva, the country's
largest multilateral overseas diplomatic post as a Guest Speaker to
celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was only the icing on his cake.
 It was hard to believe that the powerful voice that addressed
Ministers of Education at the meeting came from the 'small' man in a
wheelchair, who had tubes attached to his nose to help him breath.

Today, Pineda is a confident man, completing his doctoral studies in
Urban Planning and Social Policy at the University of California, Los
Angeles, after a first degree in Political Economy and Business, and
Masters in Urban Planning from the University of California at
Victor emerged as one of the young global leaders of the international
disability rights movement and was the youngest delegate negotiating
the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. He is
also a recipient of many awards, including the Jefferson Award (that
has been given to the likes of Arthur Ashe, Bill and Melinda Gates,
Lance Armstrong, Steven Jobs, among others) But all these began first,
with a caring mother, who did not think that 'this disabled child
should be hidden at the corner of a room'; to a school community and
system that gave everyone a chance, irrespective of their physical,
social, cultural or mental disabilities; and a government that
formulated and implemented a policy.

When Pineda turned 12 in 1990, the then President of the United
States, George Herbert Walker Bush signed into law the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), one of the hallmark achievements of his
Presidency. US Ambassador to Switzerland, Warren W. Tichenor said it
was the largest signing ceremony in the history of the White House,
witnessed by 3000 people. According to him, "This legislation became
one of the most successful and compassionate reforms in our nation's
history, helping to ensure that individuals with disabilities are
better able to develop meaningful skills, engage in productive work,
and participate fully in the life of our nation." He described Victor
Pineda as a "living proof of the effectiveness of the ADA in American
society.  Through hard work and personal drive, he said, Pineda has
"taken advantage of the opportunities that the law provides to become
one of the most recognised young leaders of the disabilities community
in the United States.

"Victor has served on the President's Council for Disabilities, has
worked as a consultant for the U.S. government and has testified
before Congress, has advised the United Nations and other governments,
and is the author of two books on disabilities.  Victor has received
numerous awards and fellowships for his work in promoting disability
rights and integration policies, and is the founding director of the
Victor Pineda Foundation, which works to support education and
disabilities programmes worldwide." Of the Foundation, Pineda said, "I
felt a kind of commitment to take a leadership position to defend
people in my community. And a community that is very diverse, people
that can't see well, hear well, speak well, walk well and remember
well, you know, these are all my brothers and sisters. We must all
fight for justice, no matter where we are."

With representatives from 153 countries, which have more than 90
percent of the world's children, including Ministers of Education from
more than 80 countries, the ICE was good representation of the world.
Pineda's colleagues the meeting included, Natalia Buga from Moldova,
Anik Kohli from Switzerland, Kentaro Fukuchi from Japan, Kamar Eid
from Palestine, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim from Chad and Abir Kassim from
the Shatilla Camp in Lebanon. Some of them have literarily fought to
be included and educated, while for others, it is an on-going battle,
what with no home to call their own and lack of a national education
policy by their home governments. Kentaro Fukuchi, Japanese, lost his
sight to cancer at the age of two. But the 24 year-old attended
regular schools in Japan, studied Inclusive Education and
International Cooperation and graduated from the University of Tsukuba
last March.

Fukuchi, who works with the Japanese Red Cross Society, said his
education "was enabled by communication and cooperation among the
parents and teachers, local government education office and the
ministries of education and also local volunteers and other parents as
well." But not all young people like himself have been that fortunate
in his country. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, on the other hand belongs to
the nomadic Mbororo tribe in Chad. The government has no policy for
the education of this and similar groups of people. Where individuals
struggle to get educated like Hindou had done, obtaining a
Baccalaureat and planning to go to the university, getting a job
becomes a Herculean task. At an interactive session with Ministers of
Education at the ICE, these young people spoke on behalf of their
colleagues around the world. The message was simple and clear. The
word 'invalid', which means 'having no value for society' should never
be used to describe any human being. A defect on a person's body is
not a defect on his or her mind. The needs of people with special
needs are not as expensive as people think. People with disabilities
do not only take. They have huge potentials and a lot to give too.
They only need to be given the chance to do so. On matters concerning
them, they demand to be part of decision making because they know best
what is good for them.

The same message was echoed by the Director of Disability Equality in
Education, a charity organisation registered in the United Kingdom,
Richard Rieser. He told THISDAY that the ICE came "at a time when we
have what is called a paradigm shift in the way we're thinking about
disabled people and the excluded. We have to now move to an inclusive
system where children with disabilities are supported in being
included. We have gone past where these children walk around with the
weight of a label on them, a label of 'special needs'. "Yes, we have
different needs, but we need to be supported to be included alongside
all of our peers, because if we are not included in school, we are not
included through life. Disabled children, yes, but they have the right
to be included. If you put the emphasis on their 'special needs', then
you miss the point of their being children, all equal, also all

Victor Pineda's story has been so elaborately told because it captures
the essence of the message from Geneva, which must not be lost – It
takes all to make inclusive education happen. As Tichenor rightly
observed, ADA did not just happen. It was the culmination of the work
of thousands of disabilities activists, civil rights leaders,
Congressmen and Senators from both parties, representatives of the
private sector, and citizens from all walks of life who supported the
full and meaningful inclusion of a key segment of the general
population into society. He said, "For all of us, we risk the loss of
valuable human resources, talent, and productivity for our economies
and societies when we sideline our fellow citizens.  Other nations of
the world, whatever stage they are now, have a worthy example in the
US. As the ambassador noted, "Like many of your own countries, my
country in its early years spent decades marginalising some of its
citizenry because of their colour, or because of their gender, or
because of their physical or mental disabilities.  It has taken us
many years to overcome the prejudices behind these policies, and while
there remains work to be done, we continue to reap the benefits of a
more inclusionary society – one in which the talents and productivity
of all of our citizenry can contribute to the vibrancy and prosperity
of our society.

"Since becoming law in 1990, the ADA has proven its worth in American
society.  More importantly, it has become a model for other countries
seeking to develop a legislative structure to maximise the engagement
of disabled citizens into their societies", he said. For countries
that were in Geneva and those that were not therefore, the message is,
'take a look at the ADA', Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Delegate
to UNESCO, Prof. Michael Omolewa, who presided over the Drafting
group, which had the challenging task of coming up with the final
outcome of the conference identified the stakeholders that have to
engage in inclusive education to include, the parents, the teachers,
the learners themselves, the donors and the community, not necessarily
in that order.

He said, "The global community has to share the responsibility. Those
who have the money have to support those who do not have because, in
the long run, it is the global half that is going to benefit from the
inclusion of everyone, so that there would be no room for terrorism;
there would be no room for anti-social behaviour and we can move
towards the achievement of peace for all within the context of the
Millennium Development Goals and Education For All." Executive
Secretary of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council
(NERDC), Prof. Godswill Obioma, was involved in the many regional
meetings and international conferences that culminated in the ICE. A
representative of the Africa region at the Community of Practice (COP)
in Curriculum Development, a platform set up by IBE in 2005 to jointly
discuss curriculum issues; Obioma, said the key massage that came from
the meetings for Africa is the need for strong national support,
formulating public policy, that takes the cultural peculiarities of
the people into consideration and turning them to actionable plans
that are observable and measurable, as well as creating strategic
partnerships for sustainability, both between the public and private
sector within each country and between developing and developed

Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Mass Literacy,
Adult and Non formal Education (NMEC), Dr. Dayo Olagunju said the
Geneva conference reinforced everything he had been saying over the
years that by concentrating all efforts and resources on primary,
secondary and university education, Nigeria is excluding a lot of her
people, the nomads, the adult illiterates and out of school the
children. On lessons learned, he said, "those of us who came here
would go back with that knowledge that now, we need to work to make
everybody get included. We have also seen that since inclusion does
not only mean getting everybody to school, people have to be taught in
their own language because if you are not teaching in their language,
they may actually be excluded because mother tongue education has also
been emphasised here, which is one of the things that we are losing in

"By losing our language, we are losing our personality. The mistake we
make in Nigeria is that people think language is only a means of
communication. No, language is the totality of the person. So when you
lose your language, you lose your culture, you lose your personality.
When people talk about cultural problems or moral decadence, you have
to trace it back to the loss of our language. So it has been
emphasised here that these are areas that every nation has to address
to make education inclusive."

His counterpart at the National Commission for Nomadic Education
(NCNE), Dr. Nafisa Dahiru Mohammed, said, "I think our organisation,
our commission is a typical example or model that shows how Nigeria
has included people or groups of people that, as it were, could have
been excluded from education and other services. I am taking back the
assertions and the affirmations and the resolutions that have been
made here to stamp the need for each member state to go back and see
how they can include everybody in the process of education and
development as a whole."

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