Inside Perkins International’s bold new plan to reach 6 million children around the world
By Brian Messenger
It’s a heartbreaking scenario that plays out every day.
Inside a rundown schoolhouse in rural Kenya, a desperate mother is begging for help. She knows her son with deafblindness needs an education.
But she’s met with a troublingly familiar response: there are simply no teachers at the school who can meet her child’s complex learning needs.
So the mother is turned away, her family forced to face an uncertain future without the life-changing guidance of a well-trained special educator.
In developing countries, where resources for children with multiple disabilities are scarce, tragic episodes like this are occurring with alarming frequency.
“These are some of the world’s most vulnerable children,” said Michael Delaney, executive director of Perkins International, “and they’re falling through the cracks.”
'Education is a human right'
Worldwide, there are 6 million children and young adults with multiple disabilities and visual impairment in need of special education.
This population, according to the United Nations, is among the least likely to go to school. One major reason why: there’s a global shortage of qualified special educators who can teach them.
That’s where Perkins International comes in.
At the U.N. in June, Delaney and Perkins President and CEO Dave Power announced a bold new plan to train 1 million teachers through Perkins International Academy.
The new certified training program is designed to equip special educators in developing nations with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach children with multiple disabilities and deafblindness.
The training courses, which will be delivered both in person and online, represent the first-ever international competency standard for teachers working with this population.
“Education is a human right,” said Delaney. “It’s a myth that these children are uneducable – that they can’t learn. It all comes back to teacher training.”
A blueprint for success
The unveiling of Perkins International Academy as a sustainable, measurable training solution attracted worldwide attention – and for good reason.
Under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, world leaders have committed to providing a quality, inclusive education for all learners – including those with multiple disabilities – by the year 2030.
Power sees Perkins International Academy as a valuable tool for governments that want to educate children with multiple disabilities, but aren’t sure how to take the next step.
Each country is wrestling with unique challenges. While some governments provide no services for these children, or place them in orphanages, others have taken steps to include them in classrooms but are now struggling to keep them fully engaged.
“This is Perkins’ area of expertise,” said Power. “Decision makers who are serious about meeting the Global Goals know these students deserve a high-quality education. Our training is a blueprint for making it happen.”
It’s a blueprint that’s already in high demand.
After conducting pilot training courses in Argentina and India in late 2016, a third course for educators in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala was held in August. New Perkins International Academy courses in Argentina and Indonesia are currently underway, while classes across Russia are slated to begin in early 2018.
Delaney said there are ongoing discussions about bringing Perkins International Academy to 30 additional countries.
“It’s a strong start,” he said. “Governments not only recognize the need, they recognize we’re uniquely qualified to help them.”
Decision makers who are serious about meeting the Global Goals know these students deserve a high-quality education. Our training is a blueprint for making it happen.
–Perkins President and CEO Dave Power
Lessons that change lives
The push to increase the world’s supply of well-trained special educators is already having a positive impact on children like Ajaz, 9, of India.
Ajaz is totally blind with additional disabilities. He receives services through the National Association for the Blind in Jammu and Kashmir. Two staff members from the association participated in the Perkins International Academy pilot training late last year.
Before the training, Ajaz could not stand or walk without support. He needed help eating and struggled to engage with those around him.
But when his physiotherapist, Rafia Bhat, returned from the training in Mumbai with new techniques for developing his motor and communication skills, Ajaz made immediate progress.
“Now he can stand on his own,” said Bhat. “He can even kick a soccer ball and hold a spoon without my support. And he’s more involved socially.”
The teachers and therapists at the National Association for the Blind are trained to educate and care for children with visual impairment. The staff has far less experience working with its growing population of kids with multiple disabilities.
“We’ve faced a lot of challenges working with these children, but this training cleared all my doubts,” said educator Tahira Akther. “It’s had a great impact on me.”
Patricia Paredes of Rosario, Argentina, has worked with children with multiple disabilities for more than a decade. But after participating in the Perkins International Academy pilot training, she started using new strategies for student assessments and adapted communication.
“It helped me rethink what I do every day,” she said. “Training like this improves the quality of education we’re delivering to children with multiple disabilities.”
From Perkins to the world
Andrea Rocha will never forget the feeling.
“You’re so nervous,” she said, recalling her first years as a special educator in Mexico City. “It’s such a big responsibility.”
Rocha now works for the Mexican government as a teacher trainer. She knows that with experience – and the right training – comes confidence. That’s exactly what Rocha hopes to instill in every teacher who enrolls in Perkins International Academy.
In July, Rocha was part of an all-star collection of teacher trainers from 16 countries who visited the campus of Perkins School for the Blind for a week-long training institute.
As newly-certified Perkins International Academy trainers, Rocha and her colleagues are now charged with imparting valuable knowledge and skills to special educators across four continents.
“This is an honor,” said Rocha. “So many children in our home countries are counting on us. We are ready to get started.”
"Training like this improves the quality of education we’re delivering to children with multiple disabilities."
A sustainable solution
Delaney is already thinking several moves ahead.
Take the upcoming training course in Russia: it’s just one component of a five-year agreement to train teachers and trainers throughout the country. Plans are also in the works to establish regional training centers and develop online learning resources so Russian educators can network and continue their professional development throughout their careers.
Through similar agreements, Delaney believes Perkins International can help governments around the world make targeted, sustainable investments in special education that impact the children with the greatest need.
In Perkins International Academy, Delaney sees the future of Perkins’ global mission to educate all underserved children with visual impairment.
“Teachers have the power to change the world,” he said. “We set an ambitious goal because we believe in these children.”