By Josephine Agbonkhese
Though a recent report by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education revealed an increase in literacy among children with learning disabilities, findings have repeatedly shown that they lag way behind their peers, and eventually suffer social exclusion as they grow into adulthood.
Therefore, for children with disabilities in Nigeria, access to quality education that will translate to total societal inclusion, has remained scarce.
It was to address this anomaly that six international professionals, specialists in special need education and care, have jointly established a non-profit, Aleph Educational and Empowerment Foundation, to cater to the education and empowerment of persons with learning disabilities.
Announcing the organisation’s debut at a recent media launch (via Webinar), Dare Daniel, Chairman and Coordinator, Aleph, said Aleph was established with the aim of empowering educationally and building the capacity of persons with learning difficulty, and to improve the standard of special education teachers by providing qualitative training.
Daniel said only a society built on diversity and inclusion could guarantee an enabling environment and an enriched life for children and young adults with learning disabilities irrespective of class, religion, sex or age.
According to him, the organisation was conceived shortly after the 2015 International Conference on Disabilities in Lagos, Nigeria—a conference initiated by Professor Paul Ajuwon in collaboration with the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, IASSIDD, headquartered in Toronto, Canada.
Daniel disclosed that the goal behind Aleph Education and Empowerment Foundation, Nigeria, was to complement the effort of the Nigerian government in creating an enabling environment for persons with learning disabilities across the country.
He disclosed that the organisation would be kicking off with its maiden webinar themed “Impact of COVID-19 on Persons With Learning Difficulty”, coming up August 4.
Also speaking at the webinar, Air Vice Marshal, Felix Olufemi Gbadebo, Executive Director, Benola Cerebral Palsy Initiative, said: “At this initial stage, what we want parents to know is that there is an organisation called Aleph looking out for them and working on how their children can get better educational opportunities.
“The main target is to leverage on practitioners, school managers, examination agencies, and more.
“This is because, part of what we have noticed is that a lot of schools claim to be inclusive, but lack standardisation due to lack of quality training on how best to handle children with learning disabilities.
“That is what Aleph is poised to address. Among our co-Founders and Directors are Mr. Daniel the Chairman, myself; Mrs. Delphine Misan Arenyekan, Executive Director, Startrite Mayton and Company Nigeria Ltd; Mrs. Dotun Akande, Founder, Patrick Speech and Languages Centre; Mrs. Peju Namme of Pitanga (SEND) Resource and Learning Centre, Angola, Lagos & UK; and Mrs. Bemigho Elijah of Bemigho Obeitan & Co. Nigeria.”
Also speaking at the webinar, Akande, one of the aforementioned Directors of the organisation, revealed that Aleph, in partnership with Beacon College, the first accredited institution to award degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities in the US, and with the University of Lagos, “is pioneering appropriate further education to train young adults in higher education.”
She said: “The idea is to start off with the training and sensitisation of parents and families, then go on to training of teachers, and so on.
“Actually, a strong reason behind our drive is that we saw that there is a gap: when children with learning disabilities come out of secondary school, what next?
“It is at that point that Aleph is interested in empowering them. If they cannot go to university, there must be something in them that we can sharpen.
“Our goal is to help them reach their full potential. We are focusing on intellectual disabilities only, and are not physical, hearing or visually impaired disabilities.”
Reiterating that the main idea behind the foundation was to bring empowerment to the society in general, Namme said: “Beginning with our upcoming webinar, we hope to organise monthly webinars to share with the society ideas that will bring about empowerment for persons with learning disabilities.
“Once that is finished, we will veer unto hosting series of interactive workshops and cocktails where we can have people meet with us in person, on a more informal basis.
“We are currently trying to work with the Lagos State government which is already very aware of the foundation.
“But because of the pandemic, we have been unable to move forward with the agenda that we have with the Commissioner for Education. Once the lockdown is totally eased, we will be able to continue.
“We are also planning a National Conference which will bring in our partners from Beacon College, to talk about what they do in Beacon College and what they will be offering Aleph.
“In the middle of all that, we are also looking at other engaging projects that will help teachers, parents and other support carers who support persons with learning disabilities; including associated cohort disability groups.
“We will start with Lagos, of course, and hopefully, from there, we will reach the federal level.”
In the long run, Namme said, the vision is to “enable children with learning disabilities to move forward after their secondary education, go on to university and be able to have jobs.
“As professionals in our various fields and establishments, we work with these children daily and we know what they direly need is the right kind of education that will enable them to become members of society like everyone else.”