In this special report, the final part of our story on the learning and living conditions of special students at the University of Ibadan, Haleem Olatunji brings to attention further perspectives to the subject. Enjoy:
While working with Special Persons’ Club (SPC), it was gathered that the University seems not to possess the data of special persons in the institution. Key officials of the SPC informed the Journalist about how they made several attempts to get the statistics from the school in order to plan their activities and look after the welfare of their members, but the University was not forthcoming, citing bureaucratic bottlenecks to cover its failure.
“On countless occasions we have tried to get the statistics of students with disability in UI and I must say that it is rather shocking that the Management Information System (MIS) of the University could not provide that,” Idowu Adeyemi, SPC president said.
“At our first trial, I was specifically told to write a letter to the Deputy Director, which I did in the name of the club, requesting that we need the details of students with disability in UI and we were asked to wait for about a couple of weeks. After two weeks, we went back there and we were told to wait for another week and after that one week, we were told to go to Jaja (University Health Services). Meanwhile, we have sought for this same detail in Jaja before, where Jaja referred us to the MIS. So we don’t know where to go, whether it is to go to Jaja or to go the MIS. So it seems more like the University does not really have a data to that effect or if they do, we do not know why we don’t have access to them,” SPC President said. The General Secretary of Club, Mr. Mitchell also validated the information given by the President of the Club.
HALLS OF RESIDENCE, OFFICIALS AND THE CONFUSION THEREIN
There is an existing confusion within the administration of the University of Ibadan, especially as it relates to issues of special students and the halls of residence. The University has a total of 12 halls of residence, 10 of which are for undergraduates while two are for postgraduates. Of the 10 undergraduate halls, six are occupied by males, three by females and one, located at the University College Hospital, by both males and females. However, there is a question of whether or not there is/are official hall(s) for special students. It was noted that for the special female students, Queen Elizabeth II hall has been made the official hall as a result of its proximity to the school area, but it appears that there is a big confusion on which male hall is the official for special male students.
In an interview with Mellanby Hall Warden, Dr. Ademola Atanda, while addressing the reason a special student had to be relocated from a room in Mellanby Hall to Kuti Hall, after he got a motorized wheelchair, informed the journalist that the student probably left because Mellanby Hall couldn’t give him the environment which he needed for better mobility.
“Maybe that was why he felt he should go and when you have an emergency like that, it is not that time you say now want to change the structure of a particular plant that may take time….. Normally, I think they have a special hall where they put them. I wouldn’t know how they were placed here because I know there is a particular hall where they place physically challenged students but I think Kuti Hall. Maybe the University doesn’t have information, but this can inform the University Management to ensure that our Halls are special needs-compliant,” Mellanby Hall Warden said.
In a bid to confirm the claim made by Dr. Atanda, a phone call was placed to the Kuti Hall Warden, Dr. Adejoro. He explained that he could not authoritatively respond to the question of whether or not Kuti Hall is the official hall of residence for special male students. “Once they give us any handicapped student, we make provisions for them and that is number one. Number two, you would be able to get the best answer from the Dean of Students or the Deputy Dean”, Dr. Adejoro explained.
At the moment, it appears that the Management of the University of Ibadan has not been paying the needed attention to the needs of special students. While Queen Elizabeth II Hall is said to be the official hall for special female students, we still have special female students in other female halls just like Miss Mercy, a student of Special Education, who was allocated to and lived all her 100 level days in Obafemi Awolowo Hall, during the 2015/2016 session, but currently stays off campus. For the male students, while a part of the school management claims that Kuti Hall is the official Hall for special students, we currently have special male students in Mellanby Hall, Tedder Hall, Bello Hall, among others.
THE ADVOCATES, THE VIOLATORS
It is expected that should there be just one place in the University of Ibadan where special students will feel comfortable with, happy to be and a source of leading example to every corner, section and structure within the institution, such place should be the Department of Special Education and the Faculty which houses it but as unexpected as it might seem, the structure of Special Education and that of its faculty is more dangerous to special persons when compared to several other departments and faculties.
There are four entrances to access the Faculty of Education building, but all these entrances have staircases, making it difficult for easy access. Even the Large Lecture Theatre and all other lecture rooms can only be accessed after climbing several staircases. Worse still, the department of Special Education itself is located on the second floor in the building which houses it. This most likely explains the reason why other faculties and departments shall never comply with the standard.
Mr. Oyewole Ebenezer, a Doctoral student (PhD Candidate) who specializes in Learning Disability in the department said: “Starting from the Faculty of Education, the building that occupies the special education department is not a friendly environment to the disabled student, because it is expected that it should not be a storey-building. It has been a problem for students with special needs because it hinders some of them from attending lectures”.
EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE: SURVEY, RESULTS
In a bid to unveil the state of things, generate more facts and collate stronger evidence on the subject, an empirical study was undertaken, involving random administration of questionnaire to 13 special male and female students in the University of Ibadan. The results are as follows:
Majority (53.8%) responded that they reside(d) on the ground floor; majority responded that they got accommodation “after much stress”; Majority (53.8%) responded that they are not satisfied with the current state of their Hall, disability-wise; Majority (69.2%) said the road that leads to the reading rooms in their halls of residence is not disability-friendly; Majority (53.8%) responded that they do not have easy access to the Cafeteria; Majority (61.5%) responded that they do not have easy access to water; Majority (69.2%) responded that the structure of their Halls or residence is generally disability-unfriendly; Every respondent (100%) responded that they would be glad if ramps are placed around strategic locations in the Hall to make movement easy.
THE ARGUMENTS OF THE SCHOOL MANAGEMENT AND COUNTER ARGUMENTS
To hear the view of the both sides, reporters had an interview with the Dean of Students’ Affairs (DSA) in his office. The Dean while addressing the state of things explained the position of the University Management, which he summarized on three grounds. Firstly, he blamed the Federal Government for inability to fund the Halls of Residence. Secondly, he explained that when the Halls of residence were built, the condition of special persons was not put into consideration by the colonial masters. And, lastly, he mentioned that the Halls of residence are seen as artifacts, thus, tampering with their state means eroding an important historical link.
“You would agree with me that those halls were built even when I was not born and they were not mindful of all these things and the major problem is that government is not funding hostel accommodation,” the DSA said.
“At a stage, they said they should send students out, but one thing that helps us in Ibadan which those other Universities do not have is that we always share things. So if you demolish all these things, you are eroding one important link.”
Visitation was also done to the Physical Planning Unit of the University, in order to generate more facts as regards the position of the school and to look into how the Unit can bring in the needed change. When the journalist got there, the attendant (a male) said no information would be released to the journalist, unless a letter was written to the Director, who might then issue an approval for disclosure or interview to take place.
Having heard this, the Journalist immediately left the Unit, wrote the letter where he added his mobile number (as directed by the Attendant), had it printed and returned to the Unit, all within an hour. The attendant received the letter, confirmed the mobile number and told the Journalist that the Unit shall get back to him. However, it should be noted that the letter was submitted on 9th of August, 2017 at about 3:00pm and till date (December 3), the Unit is yet to grant the interview.
While the school has attempted to justify their attitude on this matter, there have been counter arguments provided by students and other stakeholders. It is believed that because a hut was built several years ago does not mean that such hut cannot be converted to a mini flat, should the need arise, several decades later. It is believed that since the University of Ibadan aims at becoming a world class institution, it must be willing to provide equal and world class facilities for students, as well make constant provisions for it to flow with the 21st century ocean of change.
On the argument of lack of funds, Mr. Idowu, the President of Special Persons Club told the Journalist that “If the University lacks fund, what happens to calling the attention of private investors? If the University of Ibadan really cares about students with disability, there is always a way to generate fund to take care of these needs.”
“We have First Bank Building, CBN lecture theatre, the University did not pay for every single thing we have on campus, which is why there are donations and room for private investors. I think should the University decide to seek the aid of private individuals, external investors who are caring and really interested in this, I think things will change for the better. But what I think is the problem is that there is a kind of cavalier attitude towards the issue of disability in UI. It seems more like a second-class issue, which is not prioritized. I think that is the major problem, not funds.”
On the argument tabled by the DSA, as regards the creation of the Halls in absence of the consideration for special students, a survey made in several Halls of residence showed that some provisions were made while some Halls were established, but the current state of these provisions are in a total state of defeat. In Bello Hall, for example, there are provisions for special paths, at least for wheelchairs. However, the purpose of these spaces has been hijacked from that of easy mobility of special students to the planting and growing of flowers.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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