Education is a fundamental human right and therefore every person, regardless of his or her status, must be included in the accessing of that right. This is because it is mostly through education that we can harness the potentials as well as fully develop the capacity of all persons particularly those with disabilities. This basic right of all persons regardless of disability, sex, race, religion, etc was internationally proclaimed in 1948, the famous “Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” Again, the 1992 constitution of Ghana regards education as a fundamental human right of all.
The issue of education for persons with disabilities took centre stage in the 1990s first with the UN Inclusion Education Conference in Thailand which sought to promote the idea of “Education for all.” Then came the Salamanca Declaration on Inclusive Education in 1994. Subsequently, a lot of efforts led by the UN were undertaken aimed at providing equitable access to education for persons with special needs. This culminated in the coming into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007 which among other things requires that persons with disabilities receive the support needed, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education.
In spite of this, many persons with disabilities in Ghana face numerous challenges in their quest to access education. While some do not get the opportunity to go to school at all, others are left to their fate and thus are compelled to struggle to cater for themselves. In fact, there are some students with disabilities who have to go to the streets to beg for alms during a vacation in order to support their education. This is as a result of the fact that they have either been abandoned by their families simply because they are incapable of taking care of them or they lack the desire to do so. Other families also fail to educate their wards with disabilities out of ignorance on the potentials and capabilities of their children, discrimination and the fear of stigmatization.
Perhaps, the government was mindful of these challenges when it enacted the Persons with Disability Act (Act 715) in 2006. Even though many provisions in the Act have hardly been implemented, a major provision which in our view has been totally forgotten by the government and other stakeholders is where the Act makes it mandatory for the government to provide free education for every person with a disability. Thus, Section 18 (A) of the Act states as follows: “The Government shall provide free education for a person with a disability”.
This means that all persons with disabilities are supposed to enjoy free education at all levels. Since there is currently free education for all Basic and Senior High School students, those with disabilities are enjoying the same. Therefore the challenge now is at the tertiary level. Indeed, there are a number of students with special needs who have completed senior high schools but are at home due to lack of funds for them to continue. The question is, why has it taken so long for this provision to be implemented?, is it because they are in the minority and therefore do not have a voice to speak for them?, does parliament remember this provision which they themselves put in the Act?, Has any government official ever thought about this?
We recently read the story of a level 100 visually impaired student of the University of Cape Coast in the media which we were told touched the heart of the President and hence directed the Scholarship Secretariat to put her on their scholarship scheme. Though this is highly commendable, what we need is a full implementation of the provision since not all the sad stories of such persons can be brought to the attention of the president through the media.
We strongly call on the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the National Council on Persons with Disabilities to as a matter of necessity take steps to implement this provision.
We also invite civil society, the media and all well-meaning Ghanaians to join in the campaign to get this law implemented. The benefit the nation stands to reap from educating these marginalized is far greater than the cost it will incur if it fails to do so.