By: Jacky Habib
ACCRA – “A, B, C, D, E, F, G….” Priscilla sings quietly with a smile on her face.
Her father, Paul Asagba looks on proudly and tells us that enrolling his daughter, who has Down Syndrome, in the Dansoman Special School is a decision he is glad he made.
Priscilla is one of the 16,500 children enrolled in special schools across Ghana. A 2011 study published by the Special Attention Project noted that special education in the country is focused on ‘traditional disabilities’ such as hearing and visual impairments rather than learning disabilities.
In Ghana, special schools are managed by the Special Education Division of the Ghana Education Service, which boasts of their ability to provide education to students with special needs.
Ten per cent of children in Ghana are not enrolled in primary school, and when it comes to children with special needs, that jumps to 19 per cent. It increases to 30 per cent by the time students with special needs reach high school.
Asagba says Priscilla has learned a tremendous amount since enrolling in the school a few years ago. Although he’s proud of his daughter, he isn’t impressed with the state of her school.
Today, Asagba stands by the classroom door, on the lookout for the city’s mayor, who he knows is touring the school compound. He wants to tell him what the thinks is wrong with the school.
I am visiting the Dansoman Special School with Citi FM reporter Eugenia Tenkorang after hearing about its deplorable conditions. Asagba points out the crumbling steps leading to the classroom, posing a hazard to the children. Unlike the rest of the classes in the school that are lined with posters and children’s artwork, the special classroom has bare walls.
The unit head we spoke with says she brings her personal laptop to school to facilitate learning activities for the children. She finds that they learn well when working with computers, but unfortunately, there aren’t any for the special school. Other classrooms we walk past in the school compound however, have computers available for student use.
An hour after class has been dismissed, a few children linger around the classroom while their teachers wait for parents to arrive. They tell us this is a regular occurrence. Sometimes the parents don’t come at all, and they have to walk the children home themselves.
The unit head we spoke with, who did not want to be identified, told us that the special school lacks even the most basic supplies like pencils and notebooks. Furthermore, there are four teachers for the 52 students in the class, however not a single caregiver. This means the teachers have to perform tasks above and beyond their job description, like assisting students who are unable to go to the washroom.
The washrooms consists of four stalls. The toilets are falling apart. There is no running water, soap or toilet paper. Instead, there are buckets of water on the ground and piles of containers and broomsticks in the sink.
We speak to the school’s principal, Evans Gati, who tells us that he is unaware the school lacks any supplies. The teachers have told us it isn’t a secret- they are in dire need. It’s his word against theirs.
Gati says many of the school’s problems will be solved when they move into their new facility. A building has been constructed for the students, and it is near completion, but it’s been delayed without explanation. There still isn’t a date set for when the students will be able to move in. “Everything is under control at the moment” Gati reassures us.
Although the conditions will improve with the location change, teachers say they likely won’t get the supplies they need. Also, students still won’t have access to caregivers. When it comes to the issue of hiring additional help, Gati and the teachers don’t see eye to eye. “That is why [the teachers are] there. They’ve been trained to take care of these special children,” Gati says.
Back in the special school’s classroom, Asagba is informed that the mayor has left the school compound. His visit didn’t include a stop at the special school and Asagba is disappointed. He will continue to wait, along with the students, for teaching supplies, functional washrooms and perhaps if they’re lucky, a classroom computer.