Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children


Generally, majority of Nigerian children are normal; that is basically the reason why the curriculum consider primarily the normal children, and over look children with special needs, inspite of the fact that provisions are created for them in the curriculum. This provision seems to be more theoretical rather than practical. These are only on paper and policy levels, actual proper implementation have suffered serious neglect over the years.

The positive wave of change in education that is currently sweeping across the nations has not left untouched the concept and practice of special education in Nigerian schools. Also, special education is currently being questioned for accountability and systems reform worldwide. In most western countries, the quest to provide equal educational opportunities for all the citizenry has led to the realization that there might be some children who, due to circumstances surrounding their births, or occurrences thereafter, might not benefit from equal educational opportunities.

In other words, getting them to fit into the standard classrooms might be asking them to do things below or beyond their skills and capabilities. Furthermore, when students fail to adapt (due to their individual differences) to the ‘standard’ or general education provided for all, the consequences are usually serious and might have life-long implications. This category may be said to be disabled.

Disability is a term that describes and focuses on what a person cannot do. It is a description of an outcome of some loss, limitations or malfunctioning of the physical, mental or emotional, especially of an individual (Onu, 2004). Disability results from an impairment of the organs. For example, an individual with visual impairment may not see well. It comes in different forms, and often interferes with the child’s ability to use his or her body. This can lead to one’s inability to participate actively in the normal life of the community.

A reformation of special education is said to go beyond dealing with only those with obvious physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities and impairments to include other majorities of children with less visible but sometimes more learning problems. It includes, using all available resources to enrich and accelerate the curriculum for the gifted and talented children, while providing smaller classes and individualized strategy to help those who are differently able to master skills and materials presented (Onu, 2002).

Special education sees it as its mandate to train a child, irrespective of his abilities race and condition to; analyze, see relationships, make accurate judgment, learn to lead or follow, think critically, use scientific methods, and be involved in problem solving activities. Consequently, the teacher, as much as possible, should emphasize the development of talents, skills, gifts, abilities and capabilities in children. The idea is to bring the children to the level of functioning that will make them as less dependent as possible. The purpose of this paper is to ascertain the position of special education services in Nigeria and its’ psychological implications for Nigerian education system.

The Concept of Special Education

Special education is an individually planned, specialized, intensive and goal oriented instruction, motive, methods, and constant evaluation of individual activities or performances. Heward (2000) sees special education as a profession with its own history, cultural practices, tools and research base, focused on the learning needs of exceptional individuals. This means that special education has to do with specific goals. For Mangal (2009), special education stands for education that is specific and special in nature. It is meant or designed for children with special heeds on exceptional requirements.

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Special education is also defined as an education within the general education, designed not only to prevent, reduce or eliminate all the conditions that produce significant defects in all round functioning of exceptional persons, but is also designed to render specialized services directed towards meeting the individual needs of exceptional persons (Okafor, 2007).

In this definition, the educator not only tries to meet the needs of the individual learner, but also assists in the removal of the environmental factors that might inhibit the intended learning of the students. The special educator therefore, is one who has been trained and has acquired competencies, skills and abilities to enable the teacher work with other professionals to ensure that children with special needs are provided for and that learning takes place.

Children with special needs include children who are disadvantaged socially, are marginalized, destitute, those with physical, mental, emotional problems, those without interest in school, those who have health problems, are weak or are gifted and talented (Komolafe 2002, Obani, 2001). The effects of having to teach these group of children in the same class as others, pose multidimensional challenges in any educational set up. It also poses a great stress and challenge to the school system. Special education in its fullness therefore, is individualized education for children with special needs. It is a specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with disability. It includes all related services to meet the learning needs of youngsters (Smith, 1990).


The Concept of Exceptional Children

Exceptional is the most inclusive term, since it encompasses gifted and talented children as well as those who fall below the norm in some aspect of functioning. However, terms such as handicaps, disabilities, impairments, atypical, special needs, and at-risk are often used synonymously with exceptional, even though the meanings are slightly different. Children with significant disabilities may be referred to as developmentally delayed, developmentally disabled, having special health management needs, medically fragile, technology dependent, or severely handicapped.

Two relatively new terms that refer to students with multiple disabilities are dually diagnosed and comorbid.  Because a child with exceptionality is different from the average student in some or many areas of functioning, the study of children with exceptionalities is the study of differences. However, children with exceptionalities do not differ in every way from their normally developing peers, and it would be wrong to focus the study of these children solely on differences.

Although children with exceptionalities are the most encompassing term, individuals who have differences in the way they learn, respond, or behave are described in many ways.  Precise definitions and classification systems remain elusive. There is relatively little standardization in the field of special education; a single consistent and universally accepted method for describing the different kinds of children does not currently exist. Children with exceptionalities are constantly being reconceptualized, reconsidered, and renamed because:

  1. Many disciplines contribute to research and intervention;
  2. Each discipline tends to employ its own terminology and definitions;
  3. Children with exceptionalities do not form a homogeneous population;
  4. A specific disability may produce quite different behaviour in different children. At the same time, children categorized as having different disabilities may manifest similar behaviours

Synopsis of Academic Performance

The origins of measuring academic performance in the United States date back to the 1830s. Education advocates Horace Mann and Samuel Gridley Howe used a standardized test to evaluate student progress in Boston. Kansas school administrator Frederick J. Kelly advanced the idea of standardized testing with the Kansas Silent Reading Test in 1914. This multiple-choice test was used to decrease grading time and standardize student evaluations.

IBM employee Reynold B. Johnson developed a grading machine in 1934 that could grade test sheets by picking up the electrical current created by pencil marks Henry Chauncey developed the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) in 1934 to evaluate scholarship candidates at Harvard University and University of Iowa Professor E.F. Lindquist created the first version of the American College Test (ACT) in 1959.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 encouraged adoption of standardized testing by all states. This legislation required states to measure student proficiency and develop accountability measures for public schools. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 continued the ESEA’s focus on accountability by requiring states to ensure minimum proficiency levels in order to receive federal funds.

However, Academic performance is the measurement of student achievement across various academic subjects. Teachers and education officials typically measure achievement using classroom performance, graduation rates and results from standardized tests.

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

In working with children who have special needs in schools, multiple theories must be considered before developing curriculum content. It is also essential that the curriculum content and activities be designed to meet the needs of the group as well as that of the individuals within the class. Emphasis is now on curriculum based assessment so that the child’s training be school content oriented. The model suggested by Williams (1999) reflects three sets of principles, namely: Biogenetic maturation which involves the child’s level of biological capability towards learning;

Developmental interaction: This has to do with the child; learning and developing through interaction with the physical and social environment, and Functional learning: This has to do with the development of skills to achieve success in social interactions. The goal will be to provide all children with equitable education, enable all children to achieve success as learners, support family, build community of learners and offer all children challenges to learn. Winter (2007) stated effective strategies for addressing the principles of special education services in Nigeria as follows – use of assessment for instructions, reciprocate family partnership, provision of safe and challenging learning environments, prevention and early intervention and implementation of an integrated, active learning curriculum.

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There is the need to increase focus on the problem of comprehensive array of services to children with special needs as they represent a large population of developing country. Hence the need to prepare teachers who can collaborate with other professionals across the fields to ensure that all children in pre-primary, secondary and tertiary institutions receive the kind of support they need to be successful in learning and in life generally.

Basically, the strategies proffered will depend on the need of the special child. An IEP will have to be mapped out for each particular child depending on the nature of the impairment. The strategy will involve a team of professionals, including the parents who must give a written consent before the programme will commence.

It can span a period of three years with reviews each year depending on the level and nature of the impairment. All these must take place within the regular school setting. A school wide strategy will benefit the children. This will collaborate with parents for continuity, the whole school and service providers. The latter will involve Braille instructors, physiotherapists, physicians, guidance counselors, social workers, vocational instructors among others. For example, a child with emotional behavioral disorder will need behavior modification strategy.

The ecological set-up will have to be organized in such a way that the child not only benefits from the school system but will also be effective participant in the wider society. Social skills training will help them develop good personal inter relationship with peers, parents, and authority figures. In all these, the special educator is the key figure who will have to modify the curriculum, the content, teaching strategy, environment to make sure that the child learns. Advocacy groups can also be set up for addressing the rights where they are trampled on.

Special education service arranges the learning opportunities necessary for children. It monitors progress so that no student with special needs is over-looked or neglected. In all categories of services, the most powerful correlates of use in families with special needs are income or poverty status, material education and race/ethnicity. However there are inconsistencies in patterns of distribution of services. Where the services are available, they may not be in use. Level of development and understanding will greatly facilitate the use of the services if they are available.

Providing for the people with special need is not yet a priority because those without, special needs have scarcely adequate provision in Nigerian schools. Generally, the services of special education involve urgent services in view of meeting the unique learning adjustment and developmental needs of children with special needs (Mangal, 2009). Some of these needs include curriculum consideration, placement of these children, provision of man power and subject consideration among others. For instance, special consideration in teaching methods is supposed to be considered in handling these children. There is need to break down the curriculum content to meet the special needs of those with intellectual disabilities or specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia or aphaxia.

Social safety needs for the weakest are poorly developed and are highly inadequate. According to the Situation Assessment and Analysis Report of (2001) on children’s and women’s rights in Nigeria, disabilities were found to often lead to handicap in various aspects of social life, as the disabled receive less education, become more marginalized in social activities, and have less opportunities for gainful employment later in life. In different occasion, they have been treated differently, loaded with inappropriate assumptions, negative stereotypes and illusory generalizations like their African-America counterparts. The major problem is level of development and awareness and ability to do away with prejudice which can result to increasing the handicapping condition.

This problem of not being able to fit into the general education, has led to the demand that a ‘special’ form of education be put in place to reach the potentials of all children. The old idea of special education was to set up separate, special schools that are parallel and in competition with the mainstream schools called regular and normal school (Obani, 2001).

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Those schools were however, noted to be set up with wrong motives as the society’s most often silently remove the troublesome and undesirable children from mainstream schools into separated ones. The current demand for the practice of Special Education however, is one that realizes and acknowledges that as the individuals vary, so do their aspirations and abilities. The services should not end as political gimmicks whereby wives of state governors use as pass times to buy few wheel chairs and give as donations.

There are two eras identified in the development and provisions for persons with special needs in Nigeria according to Garuba (2003). They are: The humanitarian/missionary era and the social service era. In humanitarian/missionary era (1945-1970) services were dominated by voluntary organizations and private individuals, while the social services era (1977-till date) which was introduced after the civil war, witnessed the commencement of training programmes for special education teachers.

This was a turning point for the nation. The national policy on Nigerian Education states clearly the need to equalize educational opportunities for all children, (disabilities not withstanding), provide adequate education for all children and adult with special needs and provide opportunities for the exceptionally gifted children to develop their skills at their own pace. It further advocated for the integration of special needs children within regular schools. So far not much has been done to ensure implementation of this law.


Children with special needs form part of the regular school population. By their very nature, they need special service delivery; otherwise, they will not gain from general education. Currently, in Nigeria, such services are not available. They are advocated for in general policy statements but not implemented. Special education is only thriving from the fall-out of general education.

The recent trend is on inclusion of all children in the regular school system. This is a far cry from what developed countries are practicing. There is then need to make sure that these services are not only available but affordable. Education for all being advocated should be for everybody, disability notwithstanding. If these services are not provided for these children, they will have psychological problems that will bounce back on the society negatively.


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Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

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Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children 

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Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

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Obani, T.C. (2001). The UBE Programme in Nigeria and People with Special Education Needs. Text of the 4th Annual Public Lecture of the School of Special Education. Federal College of Education. OYO 6TH September.

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Obiakor, F.E. (1996). Self Concept: Assessment and Intervention for African-American adolescents and adults with learning disabilities: An overview of assessment issues 15-28.

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Special Education and Academic Performance of Exceptional Children

Mr. Harrison

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