By Correspondent Emmanuel A. B. Turay:
The Institute of Inclusive Special Needs Education (ISNE) at UNIMAK has awarded certificates to thirty one (31) teachers of the visually impaired at a ceremony held at the University’s Great Auditorium at Fatima Campus in Makeni city.
In her opening remarks, the Chairperson who also doubles as the Deputy Director of ISNE, Mrs. Umu Turay noted that this is the first certification ceremony for teachers working with children with special needs in education in Sierra Leone. She highlighted several challenges encountered by the teachers in their ambition as they embark on their chosen career including failure of remuneration of salaries for the certificate gained in special education and their intensive hard work and greater dedication in teaching the most vulnerable children in Sierra Leone.
Madam Turay maintained that she is of the conviction that these graduates will succeed because ISNE is committed to developing graduates who are academically able and possess the essential knowledge and skills that employers value in a competitive educational employment market. Secondly she assured her audience that ISNE will remain a leading local institution for an Inclusive Special Needs Education in the country noting that the range and quality of the proposed special needs education programmes will cover the whole spectrum of special education to address many of the key challenges that are faced in the education of children with special needs.
The Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Madam Rugiatu Neneh Turay in her statement commended UNIMAK and its partners including Helen Keller International and Sightsavers for pioneering the role in addressing disparities in the education of persons with disabilities by introducing and enforcing the need for teacher training as a critical prerequisite for achieving education for all.
The Deputy Minister reiterated that special needs education must be considered as one of the cornerstones of our education and training and that it is apparent that investment in special needs education ought to be prioritised as it will unleash the potentials of persons with disabilities squandered by the absence of special needs experts. In doing so it will equip them to play a critical role in building our nation’s wealth, she added.
She lamented over what she described as the enormous shortage of experts to handle special needs education which was communicated to the UN at the eighth session of the conference of member states to the convention on the persons with disabilities for appropriate actions to be taken to address this critical challenge. The Deputy Minister described the effort of UNIMAK as a laudable initiative noting that the initiative of training special needs teachers will help open the doors that have been closed to most persons with disabilities.
Madam Rugiatu Neneh Turay on behalf of her ministry assured all partners that if there have been any broken bridges between their organisations and the MSWGCA, those bridges will be reconstructed for effective service delivery to the vulnerable community. She appealed to all partners and other friends of Sierra Leone and the various universities in the country to strengthen their commitment to embrace special needs education which she noted is the key empowering tool for the disabled persons like all other citizens.
In his brief remarks, the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, John Hoover stated that we should judge ourselves by how we treat the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our societies noting that disadvantaged people like the orphans, the extreme poor and other people with disabilities like blindness often suffer greatly because of their vulnerability.
The US Ambassador disclosed that the Education for the Blind and Low vision children and Adults has been a two year programme worth $300,000 that is funded by US Agency for International Development through Hellen Keller International that is working at schools across the country including UNIMAK, to provide expertise, advocacy and materials to strengthen the quality of teaching for blind and low vision children and Adults. We believe the programme is a success, he added.
Statements by the Representative of MEST, Mr. Horatio Nelson-Williams, the Director of Sightsavers, Mrs. Nancy Smart; NCPD Commission, Fredrick Kamara; Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone, the Director of Academic Affairs UNIMAK, Rev. Dr. Francis Shedu Sesay formed high points of the certification ceremony.