GES: COURSES FOR ALL, PROVISIONS FOR SOME
In the University of Ibadan, GSP is an acronym for General Studies Programme. It is a unit which handles general courses, which must be offered by all students based on certain course units. But while every student must take the general studies (GES) courses, the Journalist found that provisions are not made for every student to perform excellently in those courses. Special students are not given special attention. In fact, they find it much more difficult to excel in such courses since it is compulsory for every student to purchase the GES textbook before getting the course signed especially for the visually impaired students.
While speaking to some of them, they discussed how the book has been of no use to them; of course, a student who cannot see the colour of the cover page of a textbook cannot benefit from the content of such book, while it is still in printed form. But this, the University has either failed to realise or (un)consciously ignored. In essence, there are no special materials for visually impaired students, expected to also pass these courses.
The visually impaired students made it known that the school management does not provide materials for them, as they get these materials themselves. But for GES courses, they explained that once they purchase the book, they would ask their colleagues to help them in recording the entire book on a tape recorder or their mobile phone. This implies that while the able-bodied students can survive the fear of carryover alone, the school management has placed the survival of the visually impaired student under the powers of their own colleagues.
“In my 100 level, I would call people to help me record the GES textbook”, Grace said.
“There is supposed to be provision for GES and other faculty courses. There are supposed to be special materials, either brail or recording, so that we will be able to read and compete with the sighted. There is no brail for GES courses. I call my colleagues; they will dictate and record for me. I will buy the tape recorder or I should use my phone. They will record the whole textbook for me on the recorder, so I will listen to it”, Tope, a visually impaired student corroborated.
PREVIOUS CLAMOUR, LITTLE OR NO PROGRESS
At the grand finale of Jaw War 2016, the largest public speaking competition in the University of Ibadan, Mr. Idowu Adeyemi had delivered a speech, pleading to the University management to give special students a chance. At the event were the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and the incumbent Nigeria Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole and other members of the University Management, as well as staff and students of the University community. The speech titled, “Give us a chance” was later published in The Nation Online newspaper on November 17, 2016. Excerpts of the speech are as follow:
“For four years I have waited to make this request. So long it has been that it seems like an impossible quest now….. After I fell from the staircase in my Hall of Residence and fainted, spent couple of days in Jaja and even missed my test, I felt it is time I asked the authorities of the University of Ibadan (UI) and the entire society to give us a chance…..I have come to confront the society with the consequence of its silence; the silence that accompanies the notion that disability is inability. There exists a negative attitude and social taboo towards persons living with disability in many parts of the world, including Nigeria. This has hampered the physical and mental development of this special group of persons.
“Our very own University of Ibadan (the first and the best) is not totally left out of this business of insensitivity to the needs of the physically-challenged. The builders of our legendary Trenchard Hall never thought a student like me, sitting in a wheelchair, will ever have to give a speech tonight. Hence, there is no provision for a ramp for me to get to the stage.
“We have our entire textbooks beautifully printed in English, but we forget that we have blind students who need braille machines to read them. Worse still, the fact that the Department of Special Education sits comfortably on the second floor in the Faculty of Education causing great discomfort to the physically-challenged students in that faculty.
“I am not here to point accusing fingers, neither am I saying that the university has done nothing. All I am saying is that, we can do more. There is always a room for more. We pretend to feel, understand and share the pains of physically challenged persons, but our actions speak the opposite because we don’t. I am not asking for preferential treatment or pity on behalf of special persons. No. All I am asking for is that, special facilities needed by special students should be provided so that we don’t feel like we are less human being.
“Therefore, I have come to plead with the authorities to give us a chance. We have disability but we are not liability to this society. We are not a majority, but our interest is also a priority. We do not need your pity or sympathy, just show us a little more of empathy. We do not need a special consideration, just change your perception about our condition. When you give us a chance, you would have given us the opportunity to contribute to solving the problems of the society and not become a problem to be solved by the society.”
However, it was gathered that despite the plead made by Mr. Idowu a year ago, nothing progressive has been done on the condition of special students in the University of Ibadan.
CONCLUSION: SOLUTIONS AND WAYS FORWARD
From all that has been said, it appears that the University of Ibadan is a microcosm of the larger society, which sees little or nothing good in the minority due to the prominence of the majority. They consider issues affecting the able-bodied as priorities, while treating matters which affect the special ones with levity. The University of Ibadan just like most aspects of the society, is insensitive to the needs of these vulnerable sets of people because they are few, therefore making them feel inferior while limiting their potential for greatness. Of course, while the total welfare of special students cannot be regarded as the responsibility of the University, their needs should at least be a priority.
To start with, the University Management needs to have a proper perspective on what disability is. Students with disability are not liabilities to the society. They should not be seen as second-class citizens or a problem, for it is not often a fault of the biology but due to unexpected unfortunate incidents. No one can tell who is next.
Also, the University of Ibadan needs to take practical steps by ensuring that the needs of special persons are met. Although a new structure is currently being built for the Faculty of Education, it is expected that the department of Special Education shall take its rightful place and structure in the building, and that the Faculty itself will be a happy place for special persons to be. Also, Units such as the Medical Unit, Physical Planning Unit and the Youth Friendly Centre (YFC) must wake up to the plight of special persons. And the YFC must also be disability friendly.
In addition to the two above, it is high time the University realized that an inaccessible education is an unavailable education. It is better not to have something than to have it and find it unable to access, for this is a form of torture. Should the University Management find it impossible or difficult to build a new Hall for special persons, at least two (one male and one female) of the Halls should be renovated, to be disability-compliant, friendly and conducive.
Furthermore, accommodation should be given to special students as early as possible and with little stress, just as the Management of the University of Ibadan should be advised to call for private support by partnering with the Special Persons’ Club in the institution, in order to get adequate fund to effect the needed change within the institution. Also, brail materials should be made available in the various libraries for visually impaired students and the General Studies Unit should provide a substitute for GES textbooks, in form of brail or recorded materials.
Finally, it is high time the University of Ibadan moved past maintaining the provisions made for students in the 1900’s. It is time the Ivory Tower worked towards becoming a world-class institution by putting in place, world-class provisions and facilities. It is high time the school management paid attention to the plight of special students, by making life easier for them and not a hell on earth. It is high time the able bodies in every corner of the world saw matters which affect special persons as matters of utmost necessity and importance.The school needs to strengthen its affirmative actions on the security of the rights of special persons as they are entitled to a consideration of their full humanity.
We are all beautiful, God-created beings deserving of compassionate treatment and to deny some of this just because of their special circumstances is the beginning of something truly nefarious. For, as the President of SPE UI had rightly said, while the majority would always have their way, the minority should not only have their say, they deserve to have a space.
This is the last part of a 3-part story which brings to light the pains and groans of students battling with a form of disability or the other within the University of Ibadan. They have disability but they are no liability to the society.