The Department of Special Education of the University of Makeni is becoming the leading centre of excellence for specialist educational teaching in Sierra Leone.
Founded in 2005, the University of Makeni Department of Special Education began by establishing a training programme for Specialist Teachers of the hearing impaired. Since then it has trained dozens of teachers in partnership with St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired. The department offers a diploma and Bachelor’s degree in Special Education with a choice of specialising in hearing impairments.
Building on the success of the programme for Specialist Teachers of the Hearing Impaired the department then worked with international experts to develop a similar programme for Specialist Teachers of the Visually Impaired, and in 2012 the department successfully hosted a teaching workshop for teachers of the visually impaired across Sierra Leone. In coordination with Helen Keller International (HKI), Texas Technical University and Perkins, a 5 day training programme was provided for all head and deputy head teachers throughout the country teaching in the current schools for the visually impaired. Various international experts have helped in the formulation of a certificate course in Special Education with a focus on visually impairments which commenced in December 2012.
The department offers an 11 week programme for mainstream primary school teachers in the basics of special education. The training aims to empower teachers to identify, assess and intervene for children with disabilities in mainstream schools.
“In the future, it is the hope of the University of Makeni that basic special education training for mainstream teachers will be included in all of Sierra Leone’s teaching colleges.” – Umu Turay, University Lecturer
The Department of Special Education continues to actively advocate for compensation of Specialist Teachers. Teachers of children with disabilities are required to have an advanced understanding in their field of education. Specialist Teachers deserve to be compensated for their technical expertise, high level of study and the difficulty of their work. Without instituting a salary increase schools for children with disabilities across Sierra Leone will continue to struggle to attract and retain Specialist Teachers. We are now aware that the Ministry of Education is in process of developing a Sierra Leonean Policy for Inclusive Special Education. This is a positive step to ensure that every child with Learning Disability will have trained teachers and the right to Inclusion in the Mainstream Schools.
UNIMAK’s Institute of Inclusion of Special Needs Education (ISNE)
Recognising the national lead in this successful work, the University established the Institute of Inclusion of Special Needs Education (ISNE) for training teachers in SNE in Sierra Leone.
The HKI Education for the Blind Project funded by USAID is aimed to train teachers of the Blind and Low Vision (BLV) Nationwide. This training is held at the University of Makeni. The BLV Certificate Training Program, designed by Dr. Steve McCall of Birmingham University, an International Expert in SNE, takes place at intervals for a period of eight weeks. The training of the first cohort of 15 teachers was implemented by Dr. McCall, Jan McCall and assisted by Mr. Albert J Sandy, the Local Consultant with Emma Parker who is the other specialist in BLV Education. All the participants appreciated the high standard of the course and all aspire to pursue a Diploma and Degree course in BLV in future.
Training of the second cohort of Students is in progress in July 2015 and they have again enjoyed and appreciated the Course.
During this period teaching and learning equipment was donated by USAID – HKI to the Institute of Inclusion Special Needs Education (ISNE) – UNIMAK. This included an embosser cabinet, braille papers, braille embosser and a laptop computer with installed software of how to use the braille embosser.This was much appreciated by UNIMAK.
St. Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired, Makeni was established in 1979 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. The school has become a pioneer of special education across Sierra Leone and now welcomes more than 251 students from across Sierra Leone. The St. Joseph’s School for the hearing impaired children is the only school in West Africa offering primary education and language acquisition according to the so-called Maternal Reflective Method (MRM) supported with sign language. This allows children to learn to speak, write and read in any language, makes them more capable of functioning in society, taking up official jobs or preparing them for further studies in secondary education or in University. The school’s primary objective is to provide an education for the students to then occupy their rightful places in their local society, both in the economic and cultural fields.
Student Success Story: Abdul Rahman Barrie
Abdul Rahman lost his hearing during Sierra Leone’s civil war. When St. Joseph’s reopened after the conflict, Abdul Rahman was enrolled in classes and began to learn lip reading. He was the first of St. Joseph’s graduates to sit for West Africa’s Basic Education Certificate Exam, scoring aggregate 19, an excellent result. Abdul Rahman is now attending the Murialdo Secondary School in Lunsar, learning side-by-side with hearing students.
“The way I see it, if this school had not helped me, I would not have succeeded. So that is why I love this school even more than my family.” – Abdul Rahman Barrie
read more here about work at St Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired.