Prime Minister (PM), Head of Government has praised the CBC Health Services for implementing inclusive education in the Northwest Region adding that the organisation is doing what the government would have been doing. His Excellency Philemon Yang was speaking September 25, 2015 during an audience he granted to a delegation from the Socio Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SEEPD) Programme of the CBC Health Services at the Star Building in Yaounde.
The delegation led by the Director of CBC Health Services, Prof Tih Pius Muffih, was made up of the SEEPD Programme Manager, Awa Jacques Chirac, SEEPD Programme Education Advisor, Mrs. Fobuzie Bridget Longla, and the CBM Regional Director for Central Africa, Mr. Mue Peter. CBM it should be noted is the funding partner of the SEEPD Programme
The aim of the visit was to introduce the SEEPD Programme activities to the government especially in the area of inclusive education and also to lobby for government to demonstrate increased ownership of inclusive education initiatives started in the Northwest Region.
Presenting the achievements and challenges of the SEEPD Programme’s inclusive education initiative, the Education Advisor, Mrs. Fobuzie, said besides its special education programmes for the deaf and blind, SEEPD started implementing inclusive education in the Northwest Region in 2010. The initiative came after it was noticed that children with impairments are either excluded from studying in the same setting with their peers without impairment or they study in difficult conditions. She cited that candidates with visual impairments at first had their scripts brailed on the day of writing of official exams like the GCE before they could start writing after others had started, a situation which resulted in psychological trauma. Inclusive education was therefore initiated in some 17 pilot government primary and secondary schools in the region to enable children with impairments to study in mainstream schools.Mrs. Fobuzie said thanks to CBM funds, the SEEPD Programme constructed one resource room in GBHS Bamenda and equipped one in GBHS Kumbo. She added that GBHS Bamenda for the first time since its creation now has 20 students with hearing impairments, six with visual impairments, 400 with mild or severe impairments and three sign language interpreters with one employed by the CBC Health services. CMB according to her, intends to create resource rooms in all the 17 schools.
It was also revealed that the Programme has supported the Cameroon GCE Board with a brail machine for the brailing of scripts for students with visual impairments. It was mentioned that other SEEPD programme inclusive education strides include staff capacity development in inclusive education, modification works to ensure accessibility in some schools, brailing of examinations for Higher Technical Teacher Training College (HTTTC) of the University of Bamenda which has 13 students with profound visual impairments, and a proposed MoU with same University is underway.
The SEEPD Programme Education Advisor expressed the need for government to make inclusive education a policy in Cameroon. She also recounted challenges like very large classes which negatively affect learning for those with impairments since they need special attention, inadequate number of teachers trained to teach inclusively and lack of brailing and sign language teachers and inaccessible structures in most schools. She highlighted the need for the Higher Technical Teacher Training College (HTTTC) of the University of Bamenda to introduce a compulsory course on inclusive education and eventually creating a department of Inclusive Education. The Prime Minister was visibly satisfied and overwhelmed with what the SEEPD programme is doing which he said is part of nation building. He noted that the programme’s message is good for the government which will have to embrace inclusive education in order to ensure that children with impairments study in inclusive settings because no regime should have children who are excluded from education.
Reacting to the outlined challenges, PM Yang said change is usually difficult due to resistance at the initial stage, but encouraged the SEEPD programme to press on in spite of the hitches because inclusive education certainly will find its place in Cameroon’s education landscape. While frowning at some nonchalant education authorities who have closed up to the idea of inclusive education, the PM congratulated schools that have opened their doors to children with impairments. He maintained that children with impairments should be given equal chances and opportunity. The Prime Minister therefore promised to make arrangements for the CBC Health Services’ team to meet the ministers of Basic and Secondary education and table their challenges and recommendations. Speaking at the end of the friendly and fruitful discussions, the Director of CBC Health Services who is also the SEEPD Programme Director appreciated the PM for granting them audience which he was optimistic will enable the breaking of new ground.
The SEEPD Programme through the education component has been fighting tooth and nail for inclusive education to be made policy because of the significantly high numbers of children with disabilities still out of school, a disability insensitive education system, relatively weak staff capacities and inadequate government ownership of a strategy capable of enhancing education for all. The programme’s vision now is to have all children with disabilities access education without barriers of any kind. It is hoped that with this visit and the promises made by the Prime Minister, this vison will be realized soon.