A two-day maiden National Conference on Equal Opportunity of Access to Higher Education in Nigeria, under the auspices of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) Equal Opportunity Group (JEOG), was convened, at the Abuja Continental Hotel, Abuja, with the theme: “Towards Increasing Equal Opportunity of Access to Higher Education in Nigeria” from September 25th to 26th, 2023.
One of the far-reaching decisions taken at the end of the conference, which centered on the welfare of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) was the constitution of a six-man committee with the clear mandate to administer, in conjunction with JEOG, all the resources generated for persons with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the JAMB Equal Opportunity Group (JEOG), represents a multidisciplinary group of experts constituted by the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB),Professor Is-haq Olanrewaju Oloyede in 2017 in furtherance of his quest for excellence in the administration of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) and improved access to higher education particularly to felow compatriots in Nigeria having one disability or the other.
The overarching objectives of the conference included the following:
a. bringing the challenges confronting people with disabilities in accessing higher education in this country to the attention of stakeholders in the sector;
b. analysing the problems confronting higher education in Nigeria especially in relation to people with special needs with a view to providing actionable and sustainable solutions to them; and
c. proposing changes that can be made to the current national policy on education and though that address the inequalities in the opportunity of access to higher education especially by the blind, the albinos, persons with autism, Down-Syndrome and others in correctional centres.
In his Keynote Address at the event, the Honourable Minister of Education (HME), Professor Tahir Mamman, OON, SAN, expressed the commitment of the Federal Government to inclusivity in education and the creation of the right learning environment to facilitate inclusive access for people with disabilities.
The Minister used the forum to unveil the Ministerial Roadmap for Inclusive Access to Quality Higher Education in Nigeria (2024-2028) Strategic Plan, who was assisted by the Registrar of JAMB ,Professor Is-haq O Oloyede as well as the Chairman of JAMB Equal Opportunity Group (JEOG), Professor Peter A. Okebukola. among other dignitaries.
At the technical session, there was a total of nine plenaries structured under carefully chosen themes. The plenary session began with the exploration of the ‘grammar’ of”Equal Opportunity of Access to Higher Education in Nigeria and the Role of JAMB” which was persuasively presented by the Registrar of JAMB, Professor Oloyede.
Other sessions that featured also focused on “Equal Opportunity of Access to Higher Education in Nigeria – Perspectives from regulatory agencies”, “Field Experiences on Challenges and Solutions to Assuring Equal Opportunity of Access to Higher Education in Nigeria”, “Experiences of Blind and other Students with Special Needs in Higher Institutions in Nigeria: Challenges and Solutions to Retention and Graduation”, “Role of Stakeholders in the Realization of the JAMB Equal Opportunity Agenda”, ‘Inclusivity in higher Education in Nigeria: Disabilities and Relevant National Policies”, and “Highlights of the 2024-2028 Roadmap and solutions to the conduct of UTME for blind candidates and other special groups.
Among the highlight of the event included the outlining of the features of persons classified as disabled candidates by the JAMB Registrar; followed by the recognition and conferment of awards on the top three Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in 2022.
The institutions recognised for this great feats were Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka,University of Ilorin, Ilorin and University of Calabar, Calabar; Kaduna Polytechnic,Kaduna,The Polytechnic Ibadan, Ibadan, Kano State Polytechnic, Kano and Federal Polytechnic Damaturu,Yobe State;Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, Federal College of Education,Zaria,and Federal College of Education, Kano.
Some of the inherent challenges identified as militating against inclusivity in access to higher education included: Non-Implementation of Governmental Policies, even though have been made by previous governments to cater to and indeed care for the education of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) some of which resulted in the formulation of National Policy on Education (2013) and the National Policy on Special Education (2018). He said that the implementation of the provisions of these policies had, however, largely failed to meet the expectations of stakeholders in the sector.
He attributed the failure to lack of political will and commitment at all levels of government, evident in inadequate funding of the sector, lack of special schools and teaching aids for people with special needs, non-provision and promulgation of legal instruments or mandates that would motivate appropriate action, lack of awareness about special schools/programmes for special people, inadequate support by individuals and NGOs, poor remuneration of teachers, increasing rate of insecurity, increasing rate of poverty, cultural beliefs and negative perceptions of people with disabilities, ethnic/regional factors, and social class of the parents or caregiver.
There were issues of Weak Institutional Capacities as most tertiary institutions in Nigeria do not have or meet outrightly needs of people with disabilities or special needs on their campuses.
Others were directly Challenges posed by PWDs which pose grave challenges to stakeholders’ efforts to improve quality access. These included insufficient or total non-disclosure of the extent of their disability at the point of registration for admission tests or examinations; availability of facilities for PWDs in the latter but their proximity to their places of origin as well as non-provision of full contact details by PWDs at the point of registration for examinations and tests.
Another critical one was that of Societal challenges where the conference observed that PWDs still suffered negative stereotypes,discrimination and lack of acceptance not only from their peers suffering no disability but indeed from the larger society.
The PWDs also experience the negative effects of insecurity and poverty probably more than other members of the society particularly in our institutions of higher learning.
In the light of the above, the conference resolved among others, to adopt the Strategic Roadmap for Inclusive Access to Quality Higher Education in Nigeria 2024-2028 unveiled at the opening ceremony;
They recommended the Strategic Roadmap to government as an instrument for inclusion in the development of new policies that would rein in and put an end to the disfavour and discrimination being experienced by PWDs in our institutions of higher learning
They also called on government to increase financial and legislative support to help JAMB actualise its vision of inclusivity in tertiary education through the activities of JEOG.
The Conference proposed that government institutions should consider the possibility of introducing federal scholarships for PWDs as well as waivers for the importation of assistive tools and devices for teaching and learning by PWDs and for the establishment of more special colleges of education in the remaining five geopoltical zones of this country.
Some of the decisions taken pertaining to JAMB were the need for the Board to leverage on ICT tools, while also establishing counselling and development centres for candidates with special needs.
The Board was also encouraged to liaise with other government agencies and institutions in the higher sector to provide Guidance and Counselling services to candidates with special needs and create awareness so as to stop negative and undue interference by parents in the admission of PWDs into tertiary institutions.
There were other resolutions on what higher institutions should do such as the provision of ramps and other conveniences for PWDs in the construction of new lecture theatres and hostel facilities and the establishment of special needs library for PWDs, well-resourced with facilities that are specifically meant to ease learning and research of them.
Participants at the Conference included members of the diplomatic corps interested in the higher education sector; Nigerian economic and social sectors as well as the political elite; the Disabled, Heads of tertiary institutions, Heads of Examination Bodies, and over 500 people with disabilities, some of whom are currently students of institutions of higher learning from across the federation.