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Education remains mirage for most Deaf Children

The past decade has seen growing interests in the education of Children with Disabilities (CWDs). The aim is to ensure that all children, have uninhibited access to quality education. Recognizing the human rights to education, Ghana has signed up to and ratified almost all international conventions representing a national commitment to promoting the rights of every child to education.

The enactment of the Disability Rights Act, 715 to provide a regulatory framework and the signing and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) represents a national commitment to the education of the CWDs. Furthermore, the many interventions undertaken in addressing poor educational outcomes; improving enrollment, retention, transition and completion and from a human rights perspective, seek to ensure that every child in Ghana has (as human rights) access to quality basic education. At the same time, the proliferation of both local and international bodies such as NGOs/CSOs in advancing quality education outcome (with legal space to operate) demonstrates a nationwide commitment to promoting education delivery.

Despite the various national level interventions to address poor educational outcomes, deaf education has not been given consideration a situation that has resulted in significant number of Deaf children remain out of school. Various data collected by the Ghana National Association of the Deaf are apt to the current context.

In a small survey carried out in Kadjebi and Pru districts that involved mobilization of Deaf people, out of 154 deaf people identified in first and second quarters of 2016, 111 had no formal education in either special school or inclusive schools. Only 2 had vocational training and 3 had middle school leaving certificates. Only 9 persons managed to reach JHS while 24 reached Primary. Majority of the Deaf children out of school were children of school going age while many of these in Primary school were in hearing schools with no support services such as special education teachers.

In another small baseline survey to assess Deaf participation in governance in Savelugu, Bongo, Bolgatanga and Tamale Metro, out of the 210 respondents interviewed in urban areas, 62 had no formal education. For the remaining that had formal education, the high most reached is either Primary school or SHS. Only 1.8% had post-secondary education, 28% had JHS/MSLC, 18 had SHS/Vocational while the highest the rest attained is JHS. Correspondingly, 161 of the 210 respondents were unemployed, either self-employed or with an employer. Only 49 had paid employment which includes self-employment.

These dismissal statistics have implications on other rights; access to health care, a secured future and political participation. Removing these barriers is fundamental to securing substantial equality and ensuring the realization of the inalienable rights of the deaf child.

Lack of political will, inadequate facilities (including limited number of special schools), lack of resources to expand on existing facilities and poverty among parents and guardians have resulted in many Deaf children of school going age being out of schools. Deaf education, like other basic schools were supposed to be free at the basic level. However, internal charges & levies (PTA dues and others levies) have made education expensive for most parents/guardians.

At the policy level, formal enrollment in special schools starts only after 4 years while that of their hearing counterparts can start early (thanks to proliferation of private schools). Indeed, after 4 years, the foundation for language development and other benefits of early childhood education might have eluded the Deaf child.

If early childhood is important for overall education outcome, then questions arise as to the fairness of this system. Is it fair for hearing children as young as 1year to be in school while Deaf children wait until after 4 years? If the rationale is to keep down cost, then it raises further human rights issues. For example, is there qualitative difference between the state’s responsibility towards children who can access education at their immediate environment (community) and those who (for reasons related to disabilities, for which they have no control) can only benefit from quality education in a specially designed residence institution?

The resource discourses have (over the years) acquired many of the hallmarks of discussions concerning expanding educational facilities for the Deaf with public policy decision makers refusing to engage in decisions that will engage budgetary consequences. But must the state renege on its role towards the Deaf child because the needed resources are not available? At some instance, I am tempted to state that the various inclusive education policies, targeting learners with disabilities, are in actual fact, cost cutting measures, aimed at reconfiguration series of exclusion of the Deaf child.

Claims by Deaf children for quality education raises many legal issues. It is for all reasons that series of national and international legislation came into existence. By failing to provide adequate facilities, the state infringes on the human rights of the Deaf child and by requiring the Deaf child to be enrolled much later, the state equally prevents the Deaf child from having equal access to all the benefits that education offers. Just as the education of the hearing child, the education of the deaf child is equally important. For most Deaf people, the realization of all other rights are contingent upon the provision of quality education. By signing up to the CRPD, the state committed itself to the positive obligations to facilitate the opportunities for access to education.

Whilst there may be much forces and rationale in decisions concerning allocation of scarce resources, it must be observed that the various resources committed to PWDs can be channeled to other pressing needs if more PWDs, including the Deaf, were educated to be independent and self-reliant. It is therefore imperative that the state gives effective to the undertakings within the convention by creating the necessary support system to ensure the education of the Deaf child.

By Juventus Duorinaah
Project Officer of GNAD

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