Perkins International held its first ever certified training course in Africa this past January, equipping more than 20 special educators with new skills and techniques for working with children who have multiple disabilities and sensory loss.
Conducted over 11 days in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria, the Perkins International Academy course was organized in partnership with the Brien Holden Vision Institute and the state’s Department of Education. The classes were led by Martha Majors, education director of Perkins School for the Blind’s Deafblind Program, and Trudy Segbefia, a Perkins International staff member based in Ghana.
“The teachers were very engaged and very, very excited to learn new things,” said Majors. “This is a really nice beginning. I hope over time to have more relationships with them because they can make a difference.”
Perkins launched its International Academy last summer to help governments meet their commitments to the U.N.’s goal of granting an “inclusive and quality” education to all by 2030. To date, more than 100 teachers have graduated from Academy courses held in Central America, Latin America, Indonesia, Russia and elsewhere. A two-week course in Egypt kicked off in February.
In Cross River, the demand for such a course was clear, said Majors. Though it boasts a population of nearly 4 million people, the state currently supports no educational programs for students who are deafblind, visually impaired or multiply disabled. Additionally, many of the teachers tasked with caring for these children have no formal training, forcing them to design educational blueprints on the fly.
“This one woman came up to do a presentation and she looked at Trudy and me and said, ‘I never even knew these strategies were available to my students,’” said Majors. “She was just making it up. Then she said, ‘Now I feel like I can make a difference.’”
Her sentiment was echoed by other participating teachers who, after the course concluded, filled out surveys and provided written feedback detailing their experiences.
“I came to this workshop blank,” wrote one. “Today I am going home with knowledge and communication skills to improve as a teacher.”
While this was the first Academy course to take place in Africa, Perkins International has been working on the continent for years, partnering with schools and government bodies to help develop individualized education programs (IEPs) and educational curriculums in different countries.
Outside of training, Majors and Perkins International are working to bring teachers in Africa together with policymakers who control the educational system at large. Progress is being made: In September, Cross River State is expected to launch new programs for children who are deafblind, visually impaired and multiply disabled.
“The teachers, they’ll be doers, but the Ministry of Education also has to make the systems change,” said Majors “They want to change their philosophy, but they need a lot of support to do that. And I think we’re providing it.”