About Me

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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Being mindful of the "why" we are involved with international research partnerships for inclusive education

Magnus, Kimberly, TK, Jacqui, me
Last night our team had the opportunity to visit TK Azaglo and the NGO he began 10 years ago called Future of Africa (click here for the website).

The visit reminded me of the "why" behind our research partnership meetings over the past 10 days.

The "why" is plural. It's the children of Ghana ... and Canada. We are building research partnerships and developing research projects so that we can examine and then tell the story of why it is important that all children have access to equitable and inclusive schooling.

TK works with street kids in Accra. In doing so, he is not only working to meet their needs but is also building the capacity of the university student volunteers who meet every Friday and Saturday night as an outreach to the children.
Sign on the outside of the FOA building

We witnessed this capacity-building work last night as a dozen or more university students from across Africa (Ghana, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Zimbabwe) - all of whom attend an innovative university called Ashesi University in Ghana - met and interacted with children who live on the streets. They do this every Friday and Saturday night. Why? Because they want to make a difference.

Posted inside FOA
It was a powerful experience to observe - and interact with - both the university student volunteers and the kids. It reminded me that, despite radically different lived experiences, we share some basic aspects of humanity. Namely, we crave relationships and knowing that others believe in us.

In many ways, this parallels the work we do in supporting students with special education needs. Encouraging - and sometimes fighting for - their right to have their needs addressed in classrooms and schools with their peers begins when we engage in building healthy and supportive relationships and demonstrating our belief in their value.

As we wrap up this exploratory research trip, it was an important reminder to me to keep my focus on why we do what we do.

Friday, December 13, 2019

What does "partnership development" mean when it involves the Global North and the Global South? Avoiding new-colonial mindsets and practices

For more than a week, we have been meeting with different educational stakeholders in Ghana as we explore what inclusive education means and the types of resources needed to help teachers support students with disabilities and special education needs.

Picture taken at Ghana International School
Today, we wrapped up meetings with the Ghana Education Service (akin to Ministry of Education) and Ghana International School to discuss next steps in developing our partnership.

The goal of the Partnership Development Grants of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) - which has funded this study - is to engage potential partners in collaborative research projects. Today, we mapped out a number of potential directions our research partnership could take over the next few years. These included the possibility of working with experienced teachers, working with new teachers, working with those who are preparing to be teachers, or working with school heads to support their knowledge and resource development related to students with special education needs.

Our meetings with the Ghana Education Service (GES) have been illuminating. The director of the inclusive education unit has expressed some hesitation in the development of the partnership. She clearly wants to ensure that our work aligns with the strategic direction of the GES. She wants to prevent duplication of services. She has also indicated that she is concerned when organizations do work in Ghana but her department does not know about the research or receives a report about the research but without input from her department. These are legitimate issues and I really appreciate her attention to ensuring that the partnership is truly a partnership.
Picture taken at Ghana International School

In a way, she is expressing concern about a form of neo-colonialism in the research realm. We typically think of colonialism or neo-colonialism as being political, economic, and military-related when a particular government or group dominates and controls another group or region. But as researchers we have to be cautious that we are not perpetuating a form of neo-colonialism when we do research in the Global South in the name of "improvement" without fully and authentically engaging and working with local stakeholders.

One of the aspects of the SSHRC Partnership Development Grant program that I really value is that organizations have up to three years to foster the development of partnerships. This provides an opportunity for relationships to be fostered. Out of relationships comes the opportunity to demonstrate reciprocity and build trust. As we plan for further work in Ghana, these aspects will remain foundational as we look to build partnerships that can explore issues of real importance without perpetuating a neo-colonial mindset and practices.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

On-going learning about inclusive education in Ghana: Considering the perspectives of government officials, teachers, and parents

Today we completed a full day of focus groups with three different groups of educational stakeholders in Tamale, a city in northern Ghana:
  1. Officials from Ghana Education Service (similar to Ontario's Ministry of Education).
  2. Teachers and parents.
  3. Other stakeholders (e.g., private schools, NGOs)
We were particularly interested in hearing about three aspects of inclusive education:
  1. What does inclusive education mean to you?
  2. What policies guide your work in inclusive education?
  3. What experiences have you had in supporting students with special education needs and disabilities?

About 30 people participated in the focus groups. It was fascinating to listen to the insights and perspectives of the participants. Here are my "top 10" key lessons I learned:
  1. There seems to be a greater willingness to work with students with "mild" disabilities in the regular classroom. Students with more challenging disabilities were generally seen as needing the supports available in specialized, segregated schools.
  2. Many teachers had not heard of, never mind seen, the 2015 Ministry of Education policy document that is supposed to guide inclusive education in Ghana. There seems to be a large gap between policy and practice.
  3. Participants identified that one of the most significant challenges to inclusion is the pervasiveness of stigma associated with disability in Ghana.
  4. Resources are scarce and most schools do not have access to specialized support (e.g., special education resource teachers).
  5. Classes are large so it is difficult for teachers to focus on more significant individual student needs because of the breadth of needs in their classrooms.
  6. Training of teachers on inclusive education is sporadic and without monitoring/accountability structures to ensure that students with disabilities are included. Teachers would like more professional learning opportunities and on-going support.
  7. There is a recognition of a wide variety of needs. Specific disabilities that were discussed included physical disabilities, autism, mental disabilities, learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia), and intellectual disabilities.
  8. There is a lack of assessment/diagnostic resources aside from referring children and their families to hospitals or medical practitioners. The Swiss Red Cross has played a significant role in supporting interventions such as hearing assessments.
  9. Parents of children with disabilities expressed appreciation for caring teachers but also commented that there was a significant lack of resources to support their children in community schools.
  10. Participants were appreciative that this is the beginning of a three year study that includes developing training resources. Participants were looking for on-going engagement and not singular training events. 
There is much to learn about inclusive education in Ghana but the reciprocity in the learning journey today is a strong indicator that the future of our partnership development work in Ghana is healthy!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Inclusive education in Ghana: Every child shines in a particular area

Dr. Jacqueline Specht from Western University
Today, our team met with about 50 teachers from Ghana International School to discuss inclusive education in their school context and the broader community. The school is one of the leading private schools in Ghana. We were curious to find out about their experiences with, and perspectives of, inclusive education.

The workshop was a balance of providing information related to inclusive education and gaining insights from the participants. We used the "heart, head, hands" framework for our instructional blocks:

Heart: what do we believe about inclusive education?
Head: what does the research say?
Hands: what can we do to support all students?

At the end of each block, we asked the participants to provide feedback on some key questions such as:
  • What experiences have shaped your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about students with special education needs?
  • Are there spaces in your classrooms and schools where only certain students belong? Why?
  • What plans need to be in place to support educators on the journey with inclusion?

Dr. Kimberly Maich from Memorial University
We collected the responses from the participants on these questions and will use them to help inform our future research and project development. The workshop will be repeated next Saturday with a similar group from public schools so it served as a bit of an opportunity to determine how we can gain insight into inclusive education in Ghana.

This written comment from one of the groups of participants caught my attention and serves as an important reminder of why we work in Canada and beyond to foster inclusive school environments:

Friday, December 6, 2019

What does inclusive education mean in Ghana?

I've been in Accra, Ghana for the past two days in meetings with the Ghana Education Service (equivalent to Ontario's Ministry of Education) and administrators from Ghana International School. I'm part of a team of four Canadian researchers (Dr. Magnus Mfoafo M'Carthy and I from Laurier, Dr. Jacqui Specht from Western, and Dr. Kimberly Maich from Memorial) working with partners in Ghana to better understand what it means to be a student with a disability or special education need in Ghana.

UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: A global priority
Entrance to the Director of Inclusive Education office
Our first meeting with the Director of Inclusive Education at Ghana Education Service was informative as we heard about the historical practices - and movement to - inclusive education. Supporting students with disabilities and special education needs in schools is a relatively new phenomenon globally. Canada has been moving in this direction for the past 50 years but still has a long way to go as there are still many gaps in services and resistance to full inclusion. Similarly, Ghana has a policy on inclusive education but there is still a significant gap between policy and practice. We are here to better understand this and to identify ways that we may partner together to support inclusive education in Ghana.

We have also met with administrators from Ghana International School, one of Ghana's top schools. GIS is a partner in this exploratory study as it seeks to support its own students who may have disabilities. But GIS also is committed to supporting education more broadly in Ghana. It is serving as a host for two days of workshops we will do with teachers from GIS and other schools in Accra to better understand their own experiences with, and beliefs about, inclusive education. These two workshops are tomorrow (Dec. 7) and the following Saturday (Dec. 14). Joining us at the workshops are a number of Ghanaian scholars and disability rights personnel who will further help with developing a better understanding of inclusive education in Ghana.

One way to conceptualize the spectrum from exclusion to inclusion
Next week we will travel to Tamale, a city in northern Ghana to explore the issue in focus groups with government officials, teachers, and other stakeholders. This will provide us with some comparative information to better understand inclusive education in diverse parts of Ghana.

This trip will provide us with some baseline data about inclusive education for our work with the partners over the next three years. It will also help as we develop a comparative and international understanding of inclusive education. We anticipate doing similar work in other contexts such as Haiti and Bangladesh. The study is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).