For the Young Educators Foundation, organizers of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, every child deserves a chance.
This is why for the past six years, the foundation has gone the extra mile to be more inclusive by roping in children with special needs in its programme.
The Akropong School for the Blind had been the sole beneficiary of the foundation’s strides towards bridging the gap between the massive gap created between children with special needs and the rest of the society.
“We started with the Akropong school for the blind. For six years we worked with them where we had to translate most of our resources into brail for them so they can read, understand and participate in the competition. We did that for six years,” Eugenia Tachie-Menson, the Country Director for Young Educators Foundation, said to citinewsroom.com.
But ahead of the 2019 edition of ‘the Bee’, the foundation has turned its sights towards another group of children on the fringes of society; the Tetteh Ocloo State School for the Deaf at Ashaiman.
Last Thursday, 15 kids competed in a preliminary competition in the school in which five kids progressed to the regional level, and then the national finals in Accra in February 2019, where 200 spellers will compete for the national prize, and a chance to represent Ghana in the international spelling bee competition.
The students taking the step to the next level were Truelove Mensah, Faruza Musah, Abubakar Abubakari, Suwaibatu Hamidu and Godsway Nawaf.
Where many may see an obvious disadvantage for deaf kids in a competition with mostly able-bodied kids, the Young Educators Foundation views this as the first of many steps towards a more inclusive society.
“We believe that they must be included in the national programme. The more we keep designing things just for them, the more we make it difficult to assimilate them when they grow up.”
Unfortunately, the harsh reality of resource and funding constraints mean the participation of Tetteh Ocloo State School for the Deaf has come at the expense of the Akropong School for the Blind.
“Our outfit is not catered for enough to handle more that one special needs case at a time, so we can only work with one [special needs] group at a time. With the school for the blind, you have to brail their documents. Getting anything brailed in this country is difficult because the systems are not there. The brailing is done by a charity,” Eugenia explained.
Beyond the resource challenges, the school’s themselves sometimes act as their own enemies.
Eugenia noted that administrators of some these schools appear to be the first hurdle to overcome as they complain about the fact that their special needs students are steps behind their able-bodied colleagues because they did not start school early enough, among other things.
“…Because they are not typically approached by people to get them to be included in their programme, the first reaction we get is that of rejection… We do a lot of hassling with them to try and convince them that they need to give the children a chance to prove whether really are not capable, because we know every child is capable given the same resources that you are giving the next child.”
So far, its clear the students from the school of the deaf have limited vocabulary.
“Children cannot sign words in some of the books [we have provided] because they have not been exposed to the words,” Eugenia said.
Though creating a more inclusive society in Ghana may be akin to scaling a mountain, the foundation believes literacy will be key if special needs kids are to have a chance.
“We all need to be a bit more aware about the damage we are doing when we neglect or overlook children with special needs.”
Eugenia is very aware the battle her foundation is fighting is much bigger than the series of events that will culminate in the spelling bee competition in February 2019.
This is why creating awareness is key, Eugenia said, as she stressed the role the society must play in ensuring a more inclusive society.
“Our hope and our aim with this is to prove to the powers that be that it is possible to work with children with special needs. The fact that they have some disability of sorts does not mean they cannot be included,” she said.