The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education endorses the UNESCO definition of inclusive education, considering it as ‘the process of addressing all barriers and providing access to quality education to meet the diverse needs of all learners in the same learning environment.’ According to the document, inclusive education addresses vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as learners who are excluded from or within education; living in the streets; involved in child labour; from minority cultures and/or religions, including those speaking minority languages; physically and/or psychologically abused; growing up in economic and/or cultural poverty; with health challenges, including learners affected by HIV or AIDS; or from families who are addicted to or abusing drugs; as well as those with temporary learning challenges, those who have dropped out of school, learners who learn differently – slower or faster – than the average learner, those with impairments/disabilities, learners experiencing barriers to learning caused by factors other than impairments, and learners with social or emotional challenges, including girls who are pregnant or have given birth.
Special education needs
The expression ‘persons with special needs’ is not limited to persons with physical impairments, according to the 2015 National Policy on Special Needs Education. Rather, it refers to various forms of exceptionalities, such as visual impairment, hearing impairment, ‘mental retardation (intellectual disability/intellectual developmental disability’, physical or health impairment, behavioural disorders, communication and speech impairment, learning disabilities, multiple disabilities, autism and albinism, as well as at-risk children and the gifted and talented.
Special education for persons with disabilities started with segregationist practices in the 1970s, first by missionaries and later with government involvement. The 2004 Fourth Edition of the National Policy on Education formalized public special schools, funded by the Special Education Universal Basic Education (UBE) Intervention Fund. Progressively, inclusiveness for various groups of learners has been affirmed, but separate interventions have led to a segregated education provision. The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education aims to harmonize and create a unified system. It plans to realize inclusive education by rehabilitating and upgrading special schools to serve as resource centres. These centres are expected to cater for the needs of persons with different types of disabilities and to train teachers on inclusion.
At state level, most government-run special schools target one or two impairment types, although some cater for all impairment types. Poorer states in Nigeria only have one or two special schools, which provide both boarding and day services. Some special schools also offer psychosocial support. Private special schools and schools run by non-government organizations exist on smaller scales.
Enugu State in southeastern Nigeria supports three schools acting as special education centres and integrating disabled and non-disabled children, as piloted in the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), a partnership with the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The state has yet to fully access the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) intervention funds to implement inclusive education activities through the use of assistive devices and learning materials for children with disabilities. Lagos initially set up a small number of inclusive primary schools where specific teaching capacity and materials were provided for children with disabilities to learn with their peers, some in separate classes and others in integrated settings. Lagos has implemented an Adopt-a-School initiative which allows individuals or organizations to support a public school.
Nomadic education institutions supported by international donors are growing. Under ESSPIN, for example, Jigawa set up 90 nomadic schools, managed through the State Agency for Nomadic Education (SANE). Other community nomadic schools are receiving support under the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
With regards to identification of needs, a process for tracking early identification and referral for persons with special needs is not in place. The 2015 National Policy on Special Needs Education acknowledged the need to provide information to the public about diagnostic centres and referral mechanisms.
The 1999 Constitution contains a non-discrimination provision, prohibiting distinctions based on ‘place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties’ (Art. 15.2), and mandates the government to provide equal and adequate education opportunities at all levels (Art. 18). As stated in the 2004 Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, introduced after the 1999 UBE scheme, and in the 2007 Education Reform Act, free, compulsory and universal basic education is provided in the country ‘for every child’ (Art. 2). Education opportunities from early childhood up to adult literacy are guaranteed to all, including special groups, such as ‘nomads and migrants, girl-child and women, almajiri, street children and disabled groups.’
Concerning policies, the 2004 Fourth Edition of the National Policy on Education advocated for access to inclusive education along with integration and special education provision. A shift in the education approach has been marked through civil society mobilization and technical support from the 2008–16 ESSPIN, which led to the approval of the National Policy on Inclusive Education in 2017.
Informed by the principle of inclusive education as a human right, the National Policy on Inclusive Education plans to engage relevant actors, raising awareness, building capacity and service delivery with the purpose of providing ‘standardized, qualitative and accessible education’ for all, regardless of age, nationality, ethnicity, sex or disability. Among its eight strategies, it aims to ensure adequate accessibility, create a safe and appropriate learning environment, improve teacher training, adapt curricula and learning materials and rehabilitate and upgrade special schools to serve as resource centres. It also contains implementation guidelines for federal and state stakeholders for proper planning and monitoring.
Since 2018, Nigerian states have been requested to domesticate the main provisions of the National Policy on Inclusive Education. At least five states, including Kaduna, Kwara and Lagos, have adopted inclusive education policies, which precede the new federal policy, endorsing a similarly broad-based vision of inclusive education.
At the state level, Enugu approved an inclusive education policy in 2015 and has planned to review it in compliance with the national one. Kwara’s inclusive education policy has focused on the reduction of discrimination against albino children in education, working with the Albino Foundation. Aligned with the federal policy, Kaduna’s inclusive education policy supports the inclusion of children with disabilities into regular schools and improved education access for marginalized girls and boys, including Almajiri learners and street and nomadic children. Specific provision caters for the education needs of children with albinism.
In 2018, Nigeria adopted the Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, domesticating the international commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Concerning education, the act reaffirms the unfettered right to education for persons with disabilities without discrimination or segregation (Part V, Art. 17.1) and their entitlement to free education to secondary school level (Part V, Art. 17.2). Moreover, all public schools are required to be inclusive and accessible and to have trained personnel and adequate facilities (Part V, Art. 18.1).
In education, the 2004 Fourth Edition of the National Policy on Education and the associated 2004 Universal Basic Education Act called for inclusive, free education for people with special needs, training of special education teachers, and regular census and monitoring of people with special needs for education provision. However, the opportunity exists for persons with disabilities and for exceptionally gifted and talented children, unable to cope with the regular class curriculum, to receive special education.
The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education went further, expanding inclusive education to a wide range of learners, including learners without disabilities, and encouraging closer collaboration between teachers in special schools and those in regular ones. In its strategic action plan, it further outlines details for the creation of appropriate teaching and learning conditions.
At state level, Lagos has a leading policy on disability inclusion. The 2010 Lagos State Special People’s Law set accessibility requirements. In 2015, the law was expanded through the approval of an inclusive education policy, prohibiting access denial to local schools to children with disabilities. In Enugu, the latter are included in public regular primary schools. Their completion and retention have been encouraged through the Inclusive Education Peer to Peer project run by the Voluntary Service Overseas in two local government areas. Jigawa has also signed a new national disability law, aimed at eradicating discrimination against children with disabilities.
As a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, the country has tried to incorporate and domesticate the international instruments in the 2005 CEDAW Bill and in the 2010 Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, although it was unsuccessful. In 2015 the Senate voted down another attempt to adopt a Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill.
The 2004 Universal Basic Education Act addresses education for girls. Both the UBEC at federal level and state universal basic education boards (SUBEBs) have undertaken several partnerships with donor agencies to expand girls’ access to education. At state level, UNICEF’s Girls’ Education Project (GPE3) has financed numerous initiatives to boost girls’ education and nomadic education. Among them, girls’ groups have been established to build leadership and life skills and improve retention in education, reaching out 5,000 girls. In Borno, affected by a conflict since 2009, projects implemented by international agencies on education in emergencies have a strong gender-sensitivity component. In Kaduna, cost-free education for girls has been supported by GPE through cash transfers for parents.
In response to the ongoing insurgency in Northeast Nigeria, a review was conducted of the legal framework for the protection of education institutions from attack, and an amendment to the Armed Forces Act has been drafted which, if passed, will prohibit the requisitioning of schools for military purposes. In the longer term, there is a plan to draft a legislative bill on the Safe Schools Declaration.
The Department of Basic and Secondary Education drafted a memo on protection for girls. Awaiting approval by the National Council for Education, the memo provides for the Federal Ministry of Education to deliver psychosocial support to all victims of sexual violence and to promote peaceful and violence-free schools through sensitization.
There is no policy to support the rights of sexual minorities, who face severe discrimination in Nigeria. The 2014 Same-Sex Marriage Bill criminalizes all forms of LGBTI association.
Ethnic and linguistic, indigenous and nomadic groups
Language in education policy affects the inclusion of minority groups and those without access to dominant languages at home. National policy states that English is the language of instruction from grade 3 of primary school, with the main state language used in earlier grades.
At state level, under ESSPIN, Jigawa stepped up its support of nomadic education with the establishment of nomadic schools.
Cooperation across sectors
At federal level, the Special Education Unit within the federal Ministry of Education has been responsible for policy provisions and guidelines development. Its role has progressively led to a shift from segregation to integration of learners with hearing, visual, physical and health impairments. The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education assigns definite tasks, advocating for closer collaboration between the Ministry of Education and other relevant ministries, departments and agencies, such as the ministries of health, women affairs, justice, youth, finance, labour and environment. The UBEC, together with SUBEBs at the state level, is the main actor in implementation and monitoring, facilities provision and funding. The Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) holds the responsibility for the curriculum and policy review based on impact assessment.
At the level of the states, for instance, Lagos set up an inclusive education committee, using a model initially developed by Sightsavers International and supported by DFID’s ESSPIN, to enhance inclusive education implementation, also through a sensitization activity.
Cooperation across government levels
Education governance is split between the federal and state universal basic education commissions and education ministries at federal and state levels. Education policy development and promotion remains under ministerial function, but most basic education services are funded by UBEC/SUBEBs, from both state and federal budgets.
The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education puts emphasis on the involvement of the state and local communities. The state ministries of education are responsible for the actual implementation in areas ranging from education institutions, the creation of safe and appropriate learning environments and capacity building for teachers and support personnel to the provision of learning materials. On the other hand, local government authorities ensure compliance between federal and state levels and collect data on inclusive education, among other subjects.
The activation and development of school-based management committees (SBMCs) has resulted in widespread improvements to learning environments. New guidelines and training packages emphasize the SBMCs’ role in bringing excluded children into school.
Infrastructure and services
School infrastructure has been particularly damaged during the insurgency in the northeast of the country. On the other hand, this damage has led to new opportunities to reconstruct. SBMCs have been particularly active in fundraising activities among local communities to ameliorate school infrastructure and in implementing transport services to bring children with moderate to severe impairments to school. For example, in Kwara, in the North Central zone of Nigeria, SUBEB has now incorporated ramps into new school construction. Likewise, in Lagos, many schools have been renovated and equipped with ramps.
The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education requires teachers to adapt the curriculum to meet individual learners’ needs. As part of a recent review, NERDC, in collaboration with international experts from a range of donor programmes, has developed new guidelines, giving priority to Hausa language lessons in Northern states.
ICT and learning materials
Target 8 of the 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education states that adequate learning materials and assistive devices, including ICT and assistive technologies, need to be designed to meet all learners’ needs. As an example of an innovative approach, SUBEB social mobilization departments in parts of Kaduna State have collected data on disabled students’ needs for assistive devices as part of school improvement planning processes.
Donor-led programmes like DFID’s Teacher Development Project have demonstrated the value of audio equipment and tablets to support students’ English literacy and numeracy learning. However, while funding for textbooks is improving, many states do not have budget to cover basic ICT provision.
The use of Braille and sign language is granted by law. The 2018 Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act regulates the development of communication skills for persons with disabilities as part of the primary, secondary and tertiary curricula (Part V, Art. 18.2).
Inclusive education techniques are not integrated into pre-service teacher training, although national reforms are attempting to redress the lack of training in early child development and primary teaching. Several teacher-training institutions offer diplomas in special education. Teachers with special education qualifications may be employed in the few special schools at the state level, or they may work in regular schools supporting children with disabilities.
In-service training has tried to improve learner-centred teaching techniques, often as part of major in-service teacher training programmes supported by DFID and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Some components of these programmes have focused on gender-sensitive teaching and have addressed planning for differing ability levels. Yet, it has been reported that many teachers lacks training in pupil-centred pedagogy, challenging strategies aimed at supporting disabled students or linguistic minorities.
The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education aims to increase the capacity of teachers and of school management on inclusive education, also through continuous training and the establishment of allowances. Special education teachers are expected to cooperate with teachers in regular schools through peer learning and knowledge sharing, within the activities of resources centres.
Special needs education techniques in teacher development have not been targeted by major aid-funded projects. UNICEF has, for example, introduced elements of mother tongue-based bilingual teaching in in-service teacher training through GEP3. Northern Education Initiative Plus, USAID’s early literacy programme in Northern states, has conducted three years of mother tongue-based bilingual early literacy teaching.
To help reduce the problem of inadequately qualified teachers in Lagos, more teachers were made available in all primary and secondary schools, including disability-focused schools, through the N-Power project of the Federal Government of Nigeria. In Kaduna, teachers in regular schools are trained within ESSPIN in sign language for deaf-friendly regular classes. The non-governmental Kaduna school for the deaf also provides a four-day disability-inclusive practice training course, assisted by hearing and visual impairment experts from within the school. Among subjects the training covers are attitudes towards disability, the use of sign language and Braille, and active learning techniques. GPE funds have also supported continued training for teachers in disability-inclusive/special education needs strategies.
Concerning nomadic education, community volunteer teachers in 40 community nomadic schools in Jigawa receive a monthly stipend from the state through SUBEB funds to SANE.
The education of special education personnel is subsidized, as provided by the 2018 Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities (Prohibition) Act (Part V, Art. 19). There is increasing recognition of the need to base the training and selection of head teachers on their capacity as pedagogical leaders. The 2017 National Policy on Inclusive Education plans to recruit relevant personnel, including counsellors, caregivers, sign language teachers and psychologists. Schools generally still lack support personnel, but pedagogical leadership training under GEP3 and the Teacher Development Project has shown good results in boosting learner-centred and responsive teaching performance.
The lack of comprehensive data on persons with special needs has hampered planning and implementation of programmes. Among others, data on albinism are absent. The new National Policy on Inclusive Education sets a number of indicators to monitor all aspects of an inclusive education system. However, there is still no national mechanism to capture this information.
SUBEBs deliver education management information system (EMIS) data to monitor progress towards universal basic education. Owing to financial and resource constraints, the production of reliable data on inclusion in education has been challenged. Several aid programmes have managed to provide assistance to improve analysis of the annual school census and out-of-school survey data.
At the state level, states receiving support from GPE and UNICEF’s GEP3 have continued to strengthen EMIS with a view to increasing disaggregation by categories of marginalization. Most states supported by aid programmes now have several years of data identifying the presence of girls and boys in and out of school. Enugu State identified that one-quarter of out-of-school children were excluded due to disability or health issues.
UNICEF has supported the Federal Bureau of Statistics to produce Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), generating a strong dataset on which categories of people have access to education. The MICS does not capture disability but disaggregates by gender, location, income and ethnicity.