We are collaborating with Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania & the United Methodist University in Monrovia, Liberia & Kisubi University in Entebbe, Uganda to provide professional development in special needs education. Our approach will involve three phases: 1) Training will be provided to current practicing teachers working in schools with children who have disabilities, 2) Curriculum development for pre-service general education teacher preparation programs, 3) Curriculum development for Master's level preparation in teaching children with disabilities. At this time, no institution of higher education prepares special education teachers in Liberia. This will be the first program to provide training in special needs education. This will ensure sustainability of effective practices throughout their communities.
Our plan will include comprehensive efforts to build support through parent groups, student organizations and governmental agencies to ensure that individuals with disabilities will have access to equal education and employment upon graduation.
On April 17th, 2018, Susan O'Rourke and Kevin Spencer will present the findings of their research on priorities for teacher training in special needs education in developing countries in Africa at the American Education Research Association (AERA) annual conference in New York, NY.
In August 2017, we facilitated the signing of an MOU between Carlow University and Kisubi University in Uganda to develop a graduate program in Special Needs education. We are advising faculty on curriculum and structure for the program and hope to create a professional development model with a nearby school so that professors and students may provide effective programming to the children there.
April 17, 2018 - American Educational Research Association, New York, NY
Susan and Kevin will present the results of their study to determine priorities in teacher education for special needs education in developing countries in Africa
Improving the lives of vulnerable children
Teacher training in Special Education methods
Our team also recognizes that training sessions need to be engaging, fun and practical for the teachers. Kevin Spencer's Hocus Focus curriculum is a great example of how teacher training that is participatory has a positive effect on what the teachers gain from the sessions. Some of our sessions provide challenging activities and are at a sophisticated level of knowledge because we have great respect for the teachers and administrators who attend.
In other schools we recognize that materials are desperately needed. The St. Francis School for the Blind received a computer lab as a gift however the teachers were not trained on how to use the audio capabilities and the keyboards were not accessible for the students who were blind. Funds generated by a student group at Carlow University together with a Sister of Mercy Fides grant, allowed us to purchase materials to adapt the keyboards with Braille and to train the teachers on a variety of features available on the computers. We adapted 5 more in August 2017 and only have 3 more keyboards that need to be adapted to Braille and hopefully we'll find the funding to do that in July 2018.
Our team goes to great lengths in planning sessions that meet the learning needs in each region. We modify existing and create additional learning opportunities that consider constraints and resources available locally to increase the likelihood of adoption. In addition, sessions are designed with consideration of long term goals for wider dissemination of content through the use of reusable learning objects (RLOs) to improve the learning outcomes of vulnerable children throughout the developing world.
Experiential learning, especially for children with disabilities, is most effective and the ‘garden curriculum’ is an example of how this allows every child to participate at their instructional level while contributing positively to their community. As children are accepted into schools and integrated with their peers where they can demonstrate their abilities rather than focusing on limitations, they will become more accepted into the Ugandan society as a whole and reduce stigmas associated with disability in the country. Communities with scarce resources benefit from witnessing how all individuals can add value to a group and not be a drain on their society.
Our original invitation to Uganda was prompted by the death of a young girl, Gloria with Cerebral Palsy. Although she was enrolled in a school for special needs, the teachers were not trained in how to manage a child with complex medical needs. Of the nine teachers in the school only 2 had received any education in working with children with disabilities. And this was a Special Needs School! Victoria Namusisi, the founder and director of the Bright Kids Uganda Children's Home, had adopted Gloria and taken care of her for 5 years after the death of her parents. Victoria grew to love Gloria as her own child and upon her death vowed that her passing would not be in vain.
During our last 3 visits to Uganda, we have provided professional development sessions to teachers, caregivers, parents and community leaders in effective inclusive practices for children with different abilities. Sessions are designed together with Ugandan administrators in order to meet the specific needs within the various regions. Some sessions were similar in content providing information on disabilities and effective teaching strategies for different populations; however other sessions were designed to 1) work with teachers to design community-based curriculum, 2) develop assessment plans for programming and 3) adapt materials for the visually impaired and blind.