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Empowering Special Groups for Success in Higher Education


Site Map of Module

Introduction and General Objectives
Unit 1: Special Needs Education in Higher Education
Unit 2:Teaching Students with Special Needs

Reflect on the following as you work through this Module

  1. The Tokyo Conference also requests an increase in participation rates in higher education and asks that appropriate strategies be adopted for increasing the participation of disadvantaged groups, who must be encouraged to undertake higher degrees and enter academic and graduate employment. Similar efforts are also needed to encourage the participation of ethnic minorities.

Article 3: Equity of Access


  • d. Access to higher education for members of some special target groups, such as indigenous peoples, cultural and linguistic minorities, disadvantaged groups, peoples living under occupation and those who suffer from disabilities, must be actively facilitated, since these groups as collectivities and as individuals may have both experience and talent that can be of great value for the developing of societies and nations. Special material help and educational solutions can help overcome the obstacles that these groups face, both in accessing and in continuing higher education.

    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2

    Introduction and General Objectives

    This module focuses on students with special learning needs such as the gifted and the handicapped/disabled. The module emphasises strategies that can be used by the teacher in a higher educational institution in promoting access, participation and achievement of students with special learning needs.

    After completing the module, you should be able to



    ost often, people ask "What is Special about Special Needs Education?" or "What makes Special Needs Education Special?" Special Needs Education is special because of the consideration it gives to the factors that make learning possible for some learners, easier for others and optimum for everyone who have unusual learning needs. The consideration include:

    Attention is turned to these three areas in this Unit.

    At the end of this Unit, you should be able to:

    The issue of special needs education in higher institutions of learning has become a major problem and yet ignored. Very often, people tend to think special needs education begins and stops at the primary school level. Yet, it is in institutions of higher learning that the major challenges are found. Let us reflect on some of the problems that are encountered in colleges and universities.

  • Naidu is a 25-year old science education student in the University. Naidu was not only emotionally attached to his father, they were both playmates. His father was the breadwinner of the family. Two years ago his father died in a motor accident. This devastated him and he could not cope with the emotional trauma. He became depressed and withdrawn. He became short-tempered and aggressive at the simplest provocation. He started staying away from classes and at the end of the term failed his exams and was asked to withdraw from the university.

    Mogobe is an asthmatic student. She was always irritated by the dust from the chalk and dust in the class during lectures. She stayed away from classes most of the time. This affected her performance. Michael is epileptic. He remained withdrawn. He was afraid to attend classes taking place upstairs. He was always worried about having an attack. The uncertainty of the unknown for example when the next attack will take place – the humiliation the attacks bring with them. This affected his learning, academic performance and social life.

    Paul was a Home Economics student. He was always among the top five in the class. Paul’s performance was consistently and gradually dropping. It was later found out that Paul’s girlfriend had left him for another boy. Paul could not take it. He became depressed and withdrawn. This affected his class performance. He received serious counselling. This helped him to come to terms with his disappointment. He later picked up in his class work.

    Jane is an albino. She was admitted into the University to read B.Sc. Chemistry. Despite her outstanding performance in the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations, she could not do well in Physics and her vision was very poor to read Chemistry. She became more frustrated. She was not allowed to make use of her tape recorders in the class because that was seen by students and lecturers as cheating. She was advised to withdraw or change courses. A survey carried out in a particular university with nearly 9000 student population shows that there were over 53 students with variety of disabilities needing special services. These disabilities include visual, hearing, hypertension, asthma, hayfever, emotional, allergy, spine, ulcer, physical, respiratory, HIV/AIDS and poverty problems.

  • The conditions described here are quite common in most institutions of higher learning. These students feel worried about their conditions and how they will cope with their academic work especially if the support services are not available.

    The need for this description is to help teachers to understand situations which are usually common in their classes that affect learning and teaching. Very often, there is a misconception of what special needs education is all about and who receives it. Special needs education is tailored for students who may be experiencing difficulty with their learning due to identifiable or unidentifiable factors. Let us examine the subject in a little more detail.

    The Concept of Special Needs Education

    Special Needs Education is the education of individuals who have learning difficulties because of some handicaps resulting from visual, auditory, emotional, or other physical disabilities due to circumstances of birth, mental or physical health patterns or accident in later life. It also caters for the Gifted and Talented. Special Needs Education can be looked at as a way of treating people as individuals. The gifted and talented are provided with programmes to encourage them to go at their own pace while those with physical problems which affect their education are provided with such programmes that take care of their individual learning needs with the goal of making them enjoy and benefit from available education. In other words, Special Needs Education focuses on the individual who experiences difficulties with his or her academic and adaptive behaviour as well as general learning problems.

    The behaviour deficits shown by such people are:

    Students who exhibit these problems can be found in all institutions of higher learning.

    According to Abosi (1999), ‘special groups’ of students can be defined as those students who experience difficulty with their learning due to physical, psychological, health, school and/or environmental factors. This group includes both gifted and non-gifted students. For example, a ‘gifted/talented’ learner could experience learning difficulties if not catered for. This could result in the development of subversive behavior.

    Special needs education is part of general education which treats people as individuals, adapting relevant equipment, personal curriculum and methods to overcome both identifiable and unidentifiable problems that obstruct learning. Lecturers should become more sensitive towards a heterogeneous student body. There is a wide range of special needs in the same classroom today. Some of the concerns of ‘special needs’ education in higher education include the fact that some students experience difficulties in learning and thus not make the grade. It is important to establish institutional support services that can accommodate problems.

    Every individual has his or her characteristic way of learning and each disabled and gifted student’s learning patterns may or may not relate to conditions of disability defined in medical terms. In the teaching and learning situation, it is important to stress that no method is best except that method which effects a positive change in the individual.

    For proper understanding of other terms that have direct bearing with the issue of persons with special needs, it is necessary to further distinguish between DISABILITY, HANDICAP and IMPAIRMENT.



    This involves health deterioration or a stable impairment of body functions which restrict the functional organs. It is usually caused by diseases, heredity, accident and trauma after effects of deficits. They include:

    When a victim of an accident becomes crippled and could not walk, he or she is disabled, but if such a person can get around to do what he or she desires, the person is not necessarily handicapped.


    This is the condition of mental, physical and sensory deficits that range from mild to profound. It is an abnormal deviation, defect, damage or malformation in the structures affecting the organs of the body. Disabilities and Impairments without appropriate intervention can result into permanent handicap.


    This refers to obstacles, difficulties a person encounters on account of a particular visible or invisible disability. If a person can no longer carry out normal duties or does so with a lot of difficulty because of a disability, such a person is handicapped. Handicap connotes barriers, difficulties or problems that place limitation in one’s way to perform normal activities. The effect of a physical disability may result into problems of perception, co-ordination, as well as mobility which may limit the participation in the optimum teaching and learning as in a class of non-handicapped persons.


    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2

    Categories of Disability in Higher Education

    C.O. Abosi

    There is need to highlight some of the disabilities that are generally present in higher institutions.

    Speech and Language Disorders

    Some students have difficulty in communicating with their lecturers and peers. They find it difficult to participate in oral activities. Friend and Bursuck (1996) maintain that when a student experiences extraordinary difficulties in communicating with others on account of causes other than maturation, a speech and language impairment is implicated. Speech and language impairment are usually associated with articulation problems. Students with articulation problems experience trouble in production of speech sounds, omit words, have difficulty in fluency and in some cases, students stammer. In extreme cases, students with speech and language disorders have difficulty in language production.

    Emotional Disturbance

    Students with emotional disturbance are usually withdrawn. This kind of behaviour affects their learning. Students with emotional disturbance experience difficulty with interpersonal relationships – they find it difficult in making friends since they are always on their own or easily get irritated when teased by mates. Loss of a close relative could cause this situation especially in death or broken homes.

    Hearing Impairment

    Hearing impaired students are students who experience difficulty with their hearing. This problem may be mild such as in hard of hearing students. Students with this difficulty have problem hearing or listening to lectures from the back of the class. Hard of hearing students could be assisted by providing them with hearing aid. The other extreme condition is deafness. Students who are deaf have difficulty understanding spoken words in the class even when they have been provided with hearing aid. Students who are deaf could be assisted in the class by total communication approach. Total communication involves sign language, finger spelling, gestures, lip-reading, auditory training, use of flash cards and displays. A deaf student definitely needs the services of sign language interpreter in the class.


    Visual Impairment

    Although it attracts more attention and sympathy visual impairment poses the least difficulty in learning and teaching situation provided the basic provisions have been made. Such provisions include braillers, tape recorders, tapes, typewriters, eureka, mobility and orientation training mobility materials, magnifiers, etc. Students with visual impairment are students who experience difficulty in their vision. Visual problems can be divided into two major groups. These are students with visual handicap for example, blindness, low vision and partial sight. Students who are blind or low vision need to be trained in braille reading and writing. They also need tape recorders in the class to record their lecturers which they can transcribe later into braille. Students who are partially sighted can fit into normal class using magnifiers and the lecturers write in bold print. The other group of students with visual impairment are students described as suffering from errors of refraction. They may be short sighted (myopia), long sighted (hypermetropia), or with blurred vision (astigmatism). Such students are provided with such aids as concave, convex lenses as the case may be.

    Physical and Health Impairment

    These are the commonest problems in the universities and colleges. Physical and health impairment include students with orthopedic condition or inability to move about. Other conditions include students with neurological disorders such as epilepsy, spina-bifida, cerebral palsy, sickle cell anaemia, respiratory disorders (tuberculosis), asthma. Students with orthopedic conditions are provided with wheel chairs. Modifications are usually needed with the buildings, for example the provision of ramps are required. Students may also require muscle support materials that will assist them when writing. Some physical and health conditions would need education and enlightenment of the generality of the students to encourage change of attitude or adoption of positive attitude in helping students who may be having such conditions as epilepsy, tuberculosis, cerebral palsy, asthma, etc. Experience has shown that students generally avoid them.

    Other Students Requiring Special Needs Services

    The concept of special needs education has recently been broadened. In a UNESCO (1999) workshop held in Dakar, African expert group broadened the concept of special needs education to include marginalised group. The marginalised group include students with HIV/AIDS, abused students, poor students, gifted students, abandoned children and children on the street. The issue of HIV/AIDS has become one of the most sensitive discussions in the universities because the prevalence of the condition has become a source of worry not only to the students but also to the administrators. The HIV/AIDS manifests itself in different forms. A fourth year student suddenly started losing her sight. The University got worried and rushed her to the hospital. After series of tests it was discovered that she had AIDS. Students who have AIDS or who come from extreme poverty background, or who have been abused by step parents find it difficult concentrating on their studies. Students who fall within this category are usually referred for counselling using multi-disciplinary approach.

    It may be necessary to establish a unit to deal with the teaching and learning needs of learners with special needs. Teaching and learning materials may need to be specially developed for these learners. Lecturers would, for instance, need to consider classroom and laboratory activities for learners with special needs. Examination material may also need to be modified. It may also be necessary for more time to be allocated for these students in paper and pencil examinations and tests. Institutions will need to review the extent to which their infrastructure for the special learner is friendly enough to accommodate learners with special needs. A resource center can enable the provision of appropriate equipment, e.g. Braille machines, embossers, hearing aids, canes, tape recorders, empty tapes, wheelchairs, crutches, etc. This center could serve as a link between special needs learners and the various other teaching and learning facets of the institution.

    The issue of African beliefs and traditions in so far as it affects societal perceptions was also discussed. It was believed in some societies that disability is a curse or punishment, or that `albinos’ are spirits. As a result, learners with special needs suffer rejection and/or isolation from the rest of the student body. This impacts not only the learners themselves but on the way in which lecturers/teachers relate to them. There is a need to sensitize higher education educators (and learners) regarding these learners irrespective of the size of the class. This will entail observing the characteristics of various disabilities, where established and make referrals to appropriate societal sectors.

    Excerpted from:

    Abosi, C.O. (1999). Special Needs Education in Higher institutions in Africa. Paper presented at the Regional Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, September 13-16.


    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2


    At the end of this Unit, you should be able to:

    Use the following observation instrument to assess the special needs of the students in your class. Retain the information collected for preparing your remediation measures.

    Things to observe in the classroom
    • Does the student bring materials too close or too far from the eye?
    • Does the student frown or bends forward in order to hear?
    • Does the student remain passive and withdrawn?
    • Is the student restless?
    • Does the student perform poorly in some or all the courses
    • Does the student look unhappy?
    • Does the student daydream?
    • Does the student absent him/herself from classes?


    Expected Competencies of the Teacher of Learners with Special Needs Education

    The teacher of learners with special needs education needs should be able to;

  • -use and interprete a wide range of individual assessment measures.
  • - make and record objective observation of students behaviour in a wide range of structured and unstructured situation.

    - design, implement and evaluate individual programme plans based on assessment and observation.

    - possess proficiency/expertise in the specification of behaviour objectives, goal setting, task analysis, programme writing etc.

    - use skills in teaching community living by exposing students to gradually

    increasing levels of demand in the real situation rather than in the classroom.

    - possess the skills for working with parents like applying a range of counselling skills needed in the homes.

    - competent in working with other professionals and in learning and acquiring beneficial information for the students.

    - understanding of general curriculum and working capacity to make the special adaptations needed for developing and implementing programmes for handicapped students.

  • Students who have some form of disability or the other are a rapidly growing population on campuses of higher institutions. Though it is difficult to obtain accurate figures, between two and six percent of higher education students have physical or learning disabilities that require compensatory classroom teaching.

    Ask your students to clarify any special needs. At the beginning of each semester, you might make a general announcement: "Any student who feels that he or she may need help in connection with any sort of physical or learning disability, please speak to me after class, make an appointment to see me, or see me during my office hours." When you meet with a student, explain the course requirements and ask what intervention would aid the student. Students are usually their own best advocates, and they know the techniques and adaptations that best suit their needs.

    Remember that disabled students are students first, disabled second. It is natural for able-bodied people to feel hesitant or uneasy when first meeting people who are disabled. But disabled people are neither more or less emotionally fragile than able-bodied people. Thus you needn't worry about hurting the feelings of a student who is blind by mentioning the word see. Students who are blind "see" ideas or concepts, just as students who are deaf "hear" what someone means and wheelchair users "walk" to class. Offer physical assistance only if a student requests help or if the need is immediately obviously.

    Be flexible about attendance and promptness. Students who use wheelchairs may encounter physical barriers in getting to class on time. Other students may sometimes feel fatigued or have difficulty concentrating as a result of their disability or their medication. Try to distinguish students' physical problems from apathetic behaviour.

    Be sensitive to "non-visible" or "hidden" disabilities. Three principal types of disabilities may not be immediately visible:

  • Observe seating needs. Students who use canes, crutches, or walkers appreciate having a chair or desk that is close to the door. Access to these seats should be flat: no steps, no uneven surfaces. Wheelchair users need flat or ramped access, and classroom tables or desks must have enough clearance for them to get their legs underneath. Laboratory tables and computer consoles should be set up so that wheelchair users can comfortably reach the equipment.

    Follow good teaching practices. Many techniques that will help students who have sensory or learning disabilities will also benefit all the students in your class. For example:

    (Sources: McGuire and O'Donnell, 1989; Smith, n.d.; Wren and Segal, 1985)

    Face the class when you are speaking. Deaf or hearing-disabled students who read lips cannot follow the lecture or conversation when your back or head is turned. If you are writing on the board or narrating a desktop demonstration, try to avoid talking when facing the board or the desktop. Remember that, at best, people who are deaf can read only 30 to 40 percent of spoken English by watching the speaker's lips. Augment their understanding by using facial expressions, gestures, and body language.

    Arrange for classroom participation or an alternative activity. Students who cannot raise their hand to answer or ask questions may feel isolated or ignored in class. During your first private meeting with such a student, ask how he or she wishes to be recognized in the classroom. Some students will want to be called on; others may prefer to meet periodically with you before or after class to ask questions about course content.

    Listen attentively when a student with a speech disability is speaking. Do not finish a student's sentences or interrupt. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the student to respond.

    Give options for oral presentations, if needed. Oral presentations may pose difficulties for students who have speech disabilities. Students who wish to give their presentation without assistance should be encouraged to do so. But some students will want to give the presentation with the help of an interpreter, and others may want to write out their presentation and ask an interpreter or another student to read it to the class.


    Beginning of Module Top of Unit 1 To Top of Unit 2

    Curriculum Concerns for the Special Learner

    Curriculum concerns for students with special needs is designed to meet the unique needs of those who may be basically disabled or gifted.

    The following areas are to be emphasised.

    A useful curriculum therefore, must be built upon the results of a comprehensive analysis of the particular students to be taught. The analysis of the curriculum should also consider the following:

    Regardless of whether instruction is delivered in residential or mainstream settings, there must be a concern with its efficiency in terms of how well the special child is acquiring needed skills. Some factors that are necessary in providing appropriate instruction for the special child include:

    Methodology in Special Needs Education

    The following general methods are characteristic of Special Needs Education:

    Individualised Education Programme (I.E.P)

    The primary intent of Special Needs Education requires educators to focus on the needs of individual student with disabilities. The individualised educational programme (IEP) is the most important aspect of the focus for it spells out what teachers plan to do to meet an exceptional student’s need while the plan must be approved by the student’s parent or guardian. The process comprises six phases which are:

      1. Refferal: The teacher or the parents make a referral of a learner with special needs to professionals for necessary remediations.
      2. Assessment: This is done to identify the students’ present level of academic performance through formal assessment instrument (standardised tests) and informal procedure (observation, checklist etc.).
      3. Instructional Planning: Planning of a suitable programme for the student. The planning entails establishing goals and objectives of the programme stated in measurable terms (short term or long range goals). Specific instructional methods and materials to be used are also included. The method may include team teaching, modelling, performance contracting, counselling services etc.
      4. Placement: Parents and guardians can make suggestions as to the kind of placement they want for their child. In any case, they have a right to object to any recommended placement.
      5. Instruction: Instruction involves implementation of the educational programme and it normally entails methods of instructional techniques specifying the expected number of hours to be spent with the student by the teacher or the child with non-handicapped students.
      6. Evaluation Procedure: It entails continuous assessment of the student to determine the extent of progress and to identify new or additional educational needs.

    It can be carried out at intervals of time such as every four or six months. Through this the educational setting objectives of the plan and teaching strategies are all re-examined.


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    Educational Needs of Disabled Students

    Sabou SARR

    Larousse Dictionary of Psychology defines the word need as the state of an individual in relation to what is necessary for him/her. But the most common definition in literature describes the concept of need as the difference between a current situation considered to be unsatisfactory or imperfect and a desired situation deemed ideal, satisfactory or perfect.

    Examples : the need to eat, drink, entertain oneself, etc.

    The different connotations of the term : There are different types of needs :

    The needs we have just listed are essential and of vital importance. Other needs connected with deprivation such as ignorance, poverty, etc, are referred to as secondary needs but they do not compromise existence.

    In the sphere of education, the terms felt needs and expressed needs are used in describing the learner’s needs. Hence, needs assessment constitutes the first stage used by the teacher in preparing and planning a training programme for a given target group.

    The learner’s needs are contingent on space, time and his/her environment. It is for this reason that needs assessment is considered as a continuous and regular activity and not as a unique operation that is carried out once.

  • The student in higher education today and the institutional environment bear characteristics that are different from those of the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, the needs of students in higher educational institutions in contemporary Africa are different from those of the colonial era.

    These needs should be classified according to the following parameters :


  • Special Needs Education refers to the type of education given to persons having some sort of learning disability attributed to eye, ear, emotional or other troubles caused by delivery conditions, various forms of mental or physical health or accidents incurred in the latter part of life. It also covers gifted (exceptionally gifted) and talented persons.

    The types of deficiencies are :

  • Teachers assigned to train individuals with special needs should :

    Enhancing Learning Environment for Students with Special Needs

    For teachers in higher education, the following suggestions are helpful in facilitating learning of students with special needs:


    Excerpted from:

    Sarr, S. (1999), Higher education in Africa and students with special learning needs. Presented at the Regional Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, University of Cocody, 10-14 May.


    Least Restrictive Environment

    Education of the handicapped in a Least Restrictive Environment provides limitless schooling situations which does not limit their experience and integration with the non-handicapped in the society. The education of the handicapped which include institutionalised and integrated systems should provide each child with a least restrictive environment based on the nature of the need of the student.

    Residential Schools: The system provides boarding facilities for the handicapped. Sometimes, the residential schools become a dumping ground and thus there is the trend for de-institutionalising the system.

    Integration: It refers to the practise whereby handicapped persons are educated with their non-handicapped counterparts in regular schools. Other name for integration is mainstreaming. It is cautious to realise that all handicapped persons cannot be effectively integrated.

    Normalisation: The systems allows for the same rights and opportunities as available to the non-handicapped persons.

    Services: For effective programming in the least Restrictive Environment, all necessary help and assistance should be rendered to avoid further limitations. Where there are needed devices they must be available to assist the system.

    Rehabilitation This is a way of restoring someone back into his/her normal or former condition in order to get useful to self and the society by means of psychological, medical, vocational and therapeutic training. Since disability can distrupt the individuals’ abilities to practice their vocation, effective rehabilitation can change the situation.

    Support Services

    Maximum result, efforts, effectiveness and efficiency could be achieved through the co-operation of Special Educators and non-professionals. The services of these non-professionals are required in Special Needs Education because of its inter-disciplinary nature. Supportive personnel are professionals in their own fields but provide services needed for optimal achievement of the stated objectives of Special Needs Education. No single professional and or non-professional is exclusively responsible for handling all areas of health, physical, cognitive, affective, social and psychological spectrum of Special Needs Education. Among the supportive services required in Special Needs Education are:

    Social workers.

    Medical Practitioners.


    The Psychologists

    Occupational Therapists

    Speech and Language Therapists




    Guidance Counsellors


    Sign Language Interpreters

    Readers for the Blind

    Training for Employment Opportunties

    Higher education training programme for the Gifted, disabled and their handlers should be tailored towards self-employment as well as employment in the public and private sectors so as not to make the huge investment a waste. To this end, there is need for:

    Technology in Special Needs Education

    It can not be over-emphasised that there is increasing awareness about the role information and technology play in the education of the handicapped. With the knowledge explosion and rapidly advancing technologies, much impact has not been felt by handicapped persons in developing countries. In other words, those handicapped persons have not obtained the full benefit of information and technology breakthrough. The educational technology in Special Needs Education as it relates to each handicapping condition is classified as follows: (a) Visual media (b) Auditory technologies (c ) Audio-visual equipment (d) Mobility Aids. Textbooks, Magazines and Journals and other Print or Electronic materials are essential for students to update their knowledge.

    For the Blind/Visually Handicapped

    Hearing Impaired

    Computer assisted programmes have helped students with special needs and freed the teacher from some difficulties on information dissemination.

    Technological Aids for the Physically Handicapped


    Learning Disabilities and Persons with Severe Learning Difficulties

    Gifted and Talented


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