Globally, millions of children risk failing to attain an appropriate level of education as a result of learning difficulties. According to All Children Reading, of the more than 150 million children with disabilities under age 18, 80 percent of them live in developing countries, and less than 10 percent of these children go to school. In Ghana, a large number of out of school children on the streets show symptoms of specific learning difficulties. These children also risk failing to reach their educational potential due to general lack of awareness and recognition of learning difficulties as well as absence of appropriate interventions both at home and in school.
Specific Leaning Difficulty is a condition that affects a particular area of learning and significantly impacts on an individual’s ability to learn. It can be a life-long condition, affecting many aspects of life, including education, employment, family life and daily routines. Children with Specific Learning Difficulty have a major difficulty in one academic area while excelling in other areas such as sports or arts. For instance, a child with a learning difficulty might perform well in mathematics, but have difficulty in reading or spelling.
Children with Specific Learning Difficulties also have normal or even higher level of intelligence, unlike individuals with Intellectual disabilities. Some common types of Specific Learning Difficulties are Dyslexia which is difficulty with reading, writing and spelling; and dyscalculia – difficulty with mathematics. In Ghana, children with Specific Learning Difficulties are often branded as ‘slack, dumb and stupid.’ Their condition is sometimes attributed to spiritual problems, and are therefore, denied the necessary support to enable them to overcome the difficulties. The abuse, discrimination and stigma by parents, teachers and peers compel many children with learning difficulties to drop out of school and migrate to the streets, forcing them into criminality where they become victims of violence and exploitation.
Despite their limitations however, children with learning difficulties have the ability to stay in school to overcome their learning problems and enjoy satisfying and productive lives with their families and communities. This happens when they are given the right support, guidance and direction from parents and teachers. Ghana is a signatory to a number of laws that protect the rights of children with learning difficulties. The country has ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which emphasises the rights of all children and prohibits discrimination. Article 24 of the Convention, states that children with disabilities have the right to quality education in their own community on an equal basis with other children.
In 2015, the Ministry of Education launched an Inclusive Education Policy to ensure that all children with disabilities receive help in their own schools. Despite these provisions, not much has been done to provide support services and the right interventions for children with learning difficulties. Learning difficulties have been a neglected area of research in Ghana. To ensure that all children with learning difficulties receive support services and right interventions in mainstream education, the Ministry of Education must expedite the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy which defines the strategic path of the government for the education of all children with special educational needs.
The implementation of the policy will improve education and related systems and structures to ensure the inclusion of all learners particularly, learners with special educational needs. It will also facilitate the review, revision and adoption of a national curricula content that is more representative and responsive to children with special educational needs. The Inclusive Education policy will further ensure that all pre-service teacher training courses include training on inclusive education to enable teachers to deal with the diversity in their classroom and be equipped with relevant teaching and learning competencies and strategies to meet the needs of the learners. When the Inclusive Education Policy is effectively implemented and parents take action to defend the educational rights of their children, the huge numbers of learners with ‘invisible’ special educational needs like Specific Learning Difficulties will receive the appropriate educational interventions to enable them to overcome their learning problems and achieve their full potential in life.
BY: Richard Odomako Opoku, Programmes Manager at Special Attention Project (a Ghanaian NGO working to improve the lives of children with Specific Learning Difficulties).
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