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‘Why education ministries should establish IEP centres’

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Oyeyinka Oladipupo Oluwawumi

Oyeyinka Oladipupo Oluwawumi is the Director Inclusive Education and IEP Centre (IEIEPC). In this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, he highlights the need for ministries of education to create Individualised Educational Plan (IEP) units for children with special needs. He also said, special education should be made compulsory elective course in varsities.

What is Inclusive Education and IEP Centre about?
The Inclusive Education and IEP Centre (IEIEPC) is a non-governmental organisation devoted to improving lives of special needs  children or persons through advocacy and enlightenment campaign for inclusion, providing services, training teachers, parents and other stakeholders on issues of inclusive education, special education and individualised educational planning in unique ways that improve the quality of life and maximise the learning potentials of persons with special needs.

It adopts a multidisciplinary approach towards identification, intervention and individualised educational planning for persons with special needs in a manner that will maximise ability and facilitate learning. The IEIEPC hopes to improve the quality of inclusive and special education in Nigeria and Africa through training professionals in the education sectors and other stakeholders on quality inclusive and special education practices.

The IEIEPC intends to impart in its trainees world class knowledge and practical skills in inclusive and special education, the importance of these skills on the lives of persons with disabilities and the possibility of actualizing the sustainable development goals of quality education for all. We hope to produce trainees that will significantly contribute to the education, welfare and wellbeing of persons with special needs using best practices. Advocating for the rights of persons with special needs, the neglected and discriminated in Nigeria and Africa through raising awareness and influencing public policy is also our priority.

What inspired your zeal to establish the centre?
My second child, who happened to be my only girl, we discovered right from birth that she didn’t cry. And later, when she supposed to start developing, she wasn’t developing; she had delayed growth. And that was how the journey in search of special needs education started. It was actually a shocking time for my wife and myself. She was distressed. Initially we felt it could be spiritual attack. But later through expert’s intervention we discovered that she is suffering what is termed, “Mild Intellectually
Disability,” and as a result, she had stunted growth. In the process of meeting teachers, professionals, therapists, we did so many test and the entire test was showing that she is okay, but why is she not developing well?

So in that process, I was interested in finding out what her problem was and how to take care of this problem, because, I discovered that we were just spending money to teachers and therapists, yet no improvement. This was what actually gave birth to the NGO. As an engineer, I sidelined my career and went further to study the possible cause of such cases in the university. I went to University of Ibadan, Oyo State, to study Special Education, and I specialised in Intellectual Disability. So when I finished at the masters’ level, I had to start my PhD programme. I am going to fourth year now, and I’m rounding up with my project.

So it was in this process that I discovered that there are a lot of parents who are going through this same challenge. Then the thoughts on how to help these parents prompted our sensitisation and advocacy programme. Also, in the process, I also discovered that there are issues in our educational system as far as special education is concerned. We don’t seem to have the capacity here. This is because in developed countries the government is very much interested in children living with disability and they support them with everything, but that is not so in Nigeria.

You went as far as studying special education for proper understanding of special needs cases, what are your findings?
Majorly, causes of disability from my understating and the knowledge, varies from person to person, there are some causes that cannot be defined, and there are some that can also be as a result of carelessness from parents. May be parents taking some drugs that were not recommended, alcohol or smoking during pregnancy. Such practices have a way of affecting the child. There are also cases of errors of the doctors during birth. But in all, what is important is early detection, once you detect that all is not well with a child, you engage experts that will identify a child’s Individualised Educational Plan (IEP) that is the way forward.

What is IEP and how does it function?
The truth is that not all children living with disability require special school; some need to attend regular school depending on the nature of their cases. It is IEP that enables you to determine the kind of services to give a special need child. Specialists or consultants look at a child holistically and draw a plan. It is even in that plan that it will be indicated whether the child need specialised or regular school.

For parents who have children living with special needs, what should be the first step?
From age zero parents should be able to monitor their children. If a child has any form of disability from birth and the parents are able to identify it from age zero to three. That is early intervention. It could be managed appropriately if detected early. The idea of locking such children up in a room and classifying them as social misfit should cease. There is need for parents to observe their child’s growth, there are certain things a child is expected to do as they develop from age zero to three months, six months, one year and so on.

Once you detect that all is not well, not just only after birth even pre natal, the movement in the womb and activity in there should give parents concern about the wellbeing of the child. When you discover that a child has one form of disability or the other, the first thing you do is to seek the knowledge of the experts for diagnosis. Once the child is diagnosed, whether it is intellectual disability or autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, these disabilities varies. To help the child, the first thing to do is to know the child’s IEP. In developed clime, what they say to parents is, “know your child’s IEP,” that is the first step.

The IEP enables you to understand the strength and weakness of individual child. The kind of opportunity he/she needs to develop well, and what could be a threat to him/her. For instance, in a case of Down syndrome children, what works for child A might not work for child B. So you have to first discover their IEP. So the IEP is very important and that is one of the reasons we are bringing up a programme in collaboration with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Liberation Parish, Lagos, to offer a one day free seminar to parents on “Supporting Special Needs Children.”

How best can IEP be administered to special needs children?
It could be an arm or a unit in the ministries of education across the country. And in that unit or department, they will have different specialists. They can call it the assessment or the IEP centre for Lagos or any other state committed to the wellbeing of children living with disability. That is the standard in developed clime. In fact, in some countries, children living with disabilities will not be admitted into any school until they go through the IEP units. It is easy for government as they have expertise and machineries to do these things. They have paediatricians in their hospitals, psychiatrists, behavioural analysts, nutritionists, speech pathology, therapists, and so on. They can multi-task, it is just a matter of arranging a time when they meet, look at these children and then write out IEP for that child.

Also for special schools, what they collect from parents is huge, and if they are collecting such exorbitant sums from parents, they should be able to bring the best consultants that will develop the IEP of affected children, not just bringing special educators to look at a child and that will be final, such children require experts care across board as far as child’s development is concerned. It is usually a one-year plan, which will be reviewed and assessed every three months.

The IEP analyses the state of the child, the self-help skills, as well as social skills it is all encompassing. It identifies problems, proffers solutions and provides the learning curriculum of that child. In the IEP, the solution will be provided with step-by-step. And it provides services to secondary education level.

You are calling for establishment of IEP in education ministries; do you think we have enough specialists to provide IEP services?
We have professionals, but the major problem of the country from my observation is lack of collaboration. To bring those professionals together, we need collaborations across all strata. We have experts and professors in the universities and doctors in the hospitals, even though department for special needs education are not yet much. In fact, I want to also suggest that undergraduates be made to compulsorily study special education as an elective course in the university.

How will this benefit them and the nation?
The rate at which the children with disability are being birthed in this country is increasing rapidly according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Some of the causes can also be as a result of our carelessness and so we need to educate our young ones. So personally, I think there is need for everyone to have basic knowledge of what can cause these disabilities, especially as it concerns drug abuse.

There is also a report linking women who are advanced in age to have higher chances of birthing Down syndrome children. We need to have that knowledge. There is also what we call chromosomal incompatibility. Our youths must be aware of this, they need awareness, and they need information. So special needs education should be made compulsory elective courses in our higher institutions.

What is the collaboration with IEIEPC and RCCG-Liberation Parish about?
It is a one-day seminar in which parents, caregivers, teachers, social workers and others will have access to free consultation services on IEP for special needs children. Resource persons includes professors and doctors in the field of Special and Inclusive Education, pediatricians, neurologist, occupational therapists, speech therapist, audiologist, Applied Behaviour Analyst, Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist, among others. It is a community service for the church and it will hold on Saturday, June 22, 2019 at Liberation Parish, Ijaiye Road, Ogba, Lagos.


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