By Umar Ahmad Abubakar
Time and time again, governments, at all levels, speak about the good intentions they have about improving rural education.
This promise has continued to elude the people at the rural areas because Nigerian elections, sadly, have remained a contest of lies.
Towards every election period, politicians promise to provide basic amenities like potable water, electricity, good roads, security, and most importantly, education which many believe to be the key to navigating the modern world.
In recent times, the Nigerian government has shown its desire to eliminate mendicancy in the country. Funnily enough, those found perpetrating the heinous biddings of this demon the government hopes to fight are those who are not privileged enough to be in the four walls of a formal education class. Had these mendicants received some kind of education, the story might have been different.
In view of this, one may be forced to conclude that since the government is not making genuine efforts in ensuring that there are well-equipped schools for them, the fight to eliminate mendicancy may be said to be a mere show of shamelessness.
Gombe is one of the states in Nigeria with the lowest internally generated revenue (IGR). This is evident in the very many mendicants that stroll the state capital and some of the local governments. Among these are the blind, the deaf and dumb, the cripple, and so on.
Some of these mendicants find themselves running into their kind of predicament as a last resort. This is so because they lack any other means of livelihood and survival.
The situation of special education in Gombe and the country, as a whole, is, for lack of a better word, deplorable. In the whole of Gombe state, there is only one public school for people with special needs and this school, itself, in dire need of special attention from every stakeholder in education.
The fact that there is only one special needs school in Gombe is a worrying piece of information in itself but it is only the beginning of the unsavory story. This sole school is bereft of modern classrooms. The bad classrooms that are found in the school are in bad taste. Most of them are partitioned with thin slices of wood and this brings about the interference of sound from one class to another, making it difficult for the students to concentrate.
A few months back, the sorry sight of these physically challenged students crossing busy roads all in a bid to fetch water became a norm within Gombe metropolis. Seeing how even those who retain the faculties of sight and hearing are not spared from the recklessness of vehicle owners in the state, as accidents are prevalent on the roads, these special needs students who are devoid of the hearing and seeing facilities found themselves at risk whenever they go out to fetch water. The provision of water to students in the boarding house is, quite frankly, one of the necessary things a serious government should pay attention to. In the case where these students are physically disadvantaged, this necessity becomes an emergency.
The travails of these special needs students do not end within the four walls of their school alone. Often times, one encounters these students at mosques during prayers begging for alms so that they can feed. This is unacceptable because these students are supposed to be entrusted to the government who are supposed to be in charge of their feeding and general wellbeing.
Health, they say, is wealth. The connotations of this expression is that we must pursue the wellness of our bodies and minds with the same alacrity we pursue our riches because they are of equal importance. Of the two, I daresay that health is more important.
Sadly, the health of the students in this sole special school in Gombe appears to be of no consequence to the government of the day as there is no provision of a functional sickbay that cater for the health needs of these students. More so, the school is without fences that will protect them from intruders that might come with the intention to harm.
This lack of fence has rendered them vulnerable both to the havoc of the elements and wicked men.
It is not uncommon to see individuals and groups visiting these schools with charitable donations in the form of food, clothes and writing materials. After every such visit, the atmosphere of the school changes; you see the sense of jubilation in the gait of the students not because of the material things that brought for them but because the visit signifies that they are remembered by society and loved and, most importantly, accepted. It is disheartening to hear however, that after such visits, the donations usually develop wings and disappear without a trace.
Authorities should treat this allegation as a matter of utmost priority and find out if there is credence to it. Those who steal from these already disadvantaged children must be found out and made to pay for all their greed.
Since the government of the day has pledged to give education its august attention, it is only sane that the special needs school benefits from this attention. Establishing such schools in every local government area will make it more accessible to those in the rural areas and take the stress off the shoulders of those who had to, erstwhile, travel the distance to the state capital to school.
Another thing the government should consider is making the reading materials of these students ready. This is important because of the exorbitant prices at which some of these materials are sold in the market. The blind are the ones hard hit by this. Some people are of the opinion that the taxes paid by the importers of these study materials be waived so that their vendors can sell at prices that these students can afford.
Seeing how modernity has moved everything towards the use of computers. Schools have merged their curricula to include computer studies in order to keep pupils abreast with the pace of the times. This development should not exclude the students of the special needs school.
The computer that is specialized for the use of the blind is one of such that is hard to procure. Therefore, the ministry of science and technology should do the nation proud by taking the challenge of making the said machine available for the teeming blind people found in the country.
It has become clear that there are scarcely any better ways of eradicating mendicants off the Nigerian street apart from empowering them with the necessary skills that only education (both of formal and vocational) that will enable them to be self-reliant.
Governmental budgets, from now henceforth, should capture the needs of the special needs schools and ensure that their wellbeing is given prominent attention. Nigerian governments should make concerted efforts towards modeling special needs schools after the ones obtainable in more advanced countries because education, really, is the equalizer that is needed to level the playing field and make the disadvantaged not so disadvantaged anymore.
Umar Ahmad Abubakar Writes from Gombe