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Turning policy into practice for children with disabilities in Ghana

Gilbert Niwagaba is a VSO volunteer from Uganda, who has been working in Bolgatanga, in the Upper East Region of Ghana to help bridge the gap between the Government’s Inclusive Education policy and the reality faced by children with disabilities in schools.

In under a year, he’s been able to train 500 teachers in better catering to special needs within mainstream schools. Children like Priscilla, 14, who has learning difficulties, are slowly getting more support.

VSO volunteer Gilbert Niwagaba and student Priscilla in Ghana ©VSO/Faye Goldman

Volunteer Gilbert Niwagaba working with Priscilla, who has a visual impairment and learning difficulties ©VSO/Faye Goldman

What can a child with disabilities expect from their education in Ghana?

“The Government here introduced an Inclusive Education policy in 2015. It’s a commitment to giving children with disabilities a good education in the Government-funded basic schools. But from what I’ve seen in Bolgatanga District  where I’m based there’s more work to be done if these children are to do well in mainstream schools.

“With no special educational needs (SEN) teachers in schools, and limited training in inclusive education for the classroom teachers, many schools are finding it difficult to identify and meet the needs of children with diverse disabilities. Lots of children with disabilities find they are moved up from class to class, without learning basic numeracy or literacy.”

How are you working to improve this?

“My volunteer placement with the Ghana Education Service in Bolgatanga is trying to help change this. Working with the special educational needs coordinator from the District Office, I’ve been able to train more than 500 teachers in 10 months.

"Inclusive education is still quite a new idea for many teachers I’ve met. In the training, I cover how they can identify, assess and support children with disabilities with the limited resources they have available in the regular schools here. There are always a lot of questions to answer!”

Do any of your experiences particularly stand out?

Volunteer Gilbert with Priscilla in Ghana ©VSO/Faye Goldman

Gilbert has linked Priscilla's teachers and parents up with the district authorities in the hopes she will receive more specialist support.

“One classroom teacher was having difficulty teaching a 14-year old called Priscilla. She was suspected of having special educational needs so I was asked to come to observe and interview the teacher, Priscilla and her parents.

"I found that the girl struggled to write, missed the lines often in her exercise book and took a long time to complete tasks. She had a visual impairment and learning dysgraphia but wasn’t getting the support she needed.

"I not only trained the teacher to help Priscilla but also helped the head teacher and mother see that they couldn’t solve this alone. Now they are sharing information with others like the District Education Service so that together they can plan her education. I hope this will make a real difference.”

What achievement are you most proud of?

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to share my knowledge with teachers so that the children here can do better in education. The teachers have told me they learned things from the training that they never knew before, and were excited to use the skills back in the classroom.

"They must’ve liked it as they spread the word! After the first training session, I’ve had calls from teachers, head teachers and parents asking to help with certain cases. It shows how much this is needed.”

In Ghana, VSO is working through volunteers to improve education, boost people's income and food security, especially in the more disadvantaged north of the country. Find out more about our work in Ghana.

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