Elizabeth lifts her hand swiftly as soon as her teacher asks for a volunteer to read out a passage to the class. Her teacher calls on her and she marches boldly to the board, reads loudly and clearly and is rewarded with a round of applause.
I was proud of her. I got to meet Elizabeth when I had the opportunity to visit Sandema in the Upper East Region during a field visit with UNICEF. Elizabeth is a primary 3 pupil of Alama Basic School. Elizabeth and her classmates impressed me. It was very evident that they understood the passage and each of them took turns going to the board.
This scene alone made it all worth it. It may be hard to believe, but 7 children in primary 3 out of every 10 in Ghana are not unable to read and write even though they should be able to. This begs the question, are we being fair to our children? If this number of children at that age cannot read or write how do we prepare them to learn others skills?
I continued to watch in delight as the children marched one after other to read the passage. It was then that I noticed Andrew. He walked to the board as well and read out loud. I joined the class as we applauded him with a broad smile plastered on my face. It was hard not to notice him. Andrew has cerebral palsy but this didn’t stop him from raising his hands to answer questions and participating during lessons.
You don’t see this every day. A child with a disability not just comes to school and stays in class all day, but actively participates like any other! This is heart-warming. Knowing that 1 child just like Andrew out of three in Ghana has some form of disability and is unable to attend school because of it! These numbers are shocking but real.
But…this is why we are here! This is why we took time out to visit schools like Elizabeth’s and Andrew’s to find out whether they are able to go to school and learn. Thanks to USAID and UNICEF access to school and the opportunity to learn is taking place. Its gradual but there’s progress.
USAID supports UNICEF to train teachers to ensure that they know how to identify and manage children with disabilities. Parents of children with all forms of disabilities, mild or severe are encouraged to send their children to school and teachers know exactly how to ensure that they are able to follow the lessons.
It doesn’t stop there, USAID also provides funding to help train teachers on teaching children how to read. To ensure that there is suffiencient material for the children, supplementary reading materials are also provided through these funds.
I am happy to have been able to witness a programme that’s working this well. Hopefully these kinds of interventions can be spread to all other parts of the country. We need to build our children up, especially at the basic level. It gives then a fighting chance to have decent lives in future.
I hope to see Elizabeth and Andrew another day! They are definitely examples for others coming up after them to watch.
By Francisca Kakra Forson