The global agenda to restore the natural ecosystem continues to receive attention from governments, private sector actors, and civil society among others. In Ghana, June 11 was declared Green Ghana day with a call on all segments of society to contribute to planting 5 million trees in a single day. The call was heeded by the general populace including traditional rulers, government officials, students, footballers, and the international community. What remains to be assessed is whether collectively, we met our goal of planting 5 million trees in a single day.
To maintain these trees, the government is relying on the goodwill of the citizenry to take responsibility and nurture the trees to maturity. Beyond this expectation, I hold the view that Greening Ghana should not just be an annual affair. It should be a daily and deliberate socialization effort that Ghanaians identify and live with. Greening Ghana should be a part of the bigger Ghanaian dream. One of the ways to realize this dream is for individuals to commemorate milestones by planting trees. For example, an individual could plant a tree on their birthday or when someone dear dies; students could be made to each plant a tree when elected into leadership roles; visiting heads of state could be made to plant a tree in their respective embassies or in designated gardens. The government can further establish a presidential garden to allow diplomatic guests to plant trees in memory of their visits to Ghana.
It is in the spirit of this greening Ghana dream that I want to focus the lens in this month’s blog post.
While the government was calling on all Ghanaians to actively participate in the tree planting exercise, persons with disabilities were left out. I say left out because no provision was made for these individuals to participate in the exercise. This, unfortunately, is not an isolated occurrence. There is a national policy on Inclusive Education which details how persons with disabilities should be supported as part of efforts to nurture their potential. Unfortunately, there is a strong divergence between policy and practice. The majority of school infrastructure provided by the state is not disability-friendly. Surprisingly, it is even common to find structures built in the year 2021 having no provision for persons with disabilities. Meanwhile, the law states that all public buildings should be disability-friendly. I find that some schools construct ramps to essential facilities such as the library and classrooms. However, there are no paved or designated walkways for people with mobility or visual impairment to freely move about and access the essential facilities.
Many schools, especially public schools, lack the skill and competence to identify and support the learning needs of those with different forms of disability other than mobility, visual, and hearing impairments. This often leads to frustrating learning experiences for both students and teachers, low self-esteem in affected students, and ultimately higher attrition rate for affected students.
The Greening Ghana initiative offers a solution for our disability-education quagmire. The urgency and proactiveness that is being employed in Ghana to restore our natural ecosystem should be applied to ensuring the inclusiveness of persons with different kinds of disability in education. It starts with ensuring that the educational and health systems are equipped to identify and manage various types of disabilities. Then, from the design to the implementation of educational systems and infrastructure, persons with disabilities must be involved and catered for. From the local draughtsman to the big architectural firms, from the village artisan to the international contractor, from the local government to the national and international partners, we need to be deliberate and look out for the collective good of persons with disabilities.
I am passionate about efforts that seek to improve the plight of the poor, marginalised, and the forgotten group. Disability, they say, is not inability. We must collectively determine to change the narrative of children with disability, especially out-of-school-children (OOSC) with disability. This is why I find the Fair-AI in Education project to be timely and relevant to the cause of not leaving anyone behind.