In the process of writing Count Me In! we came to question whether it was coincidental that a work on inclusion should come out of the African continent. There was certainly a need that had been documented by an earlier survey (Kusuma-Powell,1997). Results had underscored the needs of small international schools in Africa, often situated in geographically remote locations without access to professional resources in the local community, and unable to afford a range of specialist personnel to work with children with learning
But we also wondered how much our own African experience had affected our thinking on inclusion. We wondered about the influence of the African extended family and in particular, the warmth, generosity and hospitality of the Tanzanian people. It was hard for us to imagine a more joyously inclusive event than the celebration of a Swahili wedding. We were also reminded of the traditional collaboration in African child rearing as reflected in the Zambian proverb: "It takes an entire village to raise a child."
We were poignantly aware that Africa is the poorest continent, often misrepresented and misunderstood by the media and much marginalized by the rest of the world. We openly wondered how living for 16 years on this "excluded" continent had affected both our thinking and our feeling about inclusivity.
In 1997, funded by a grant from the Overseas Schools Advisory Council (OSAC), Ochan conducted a continent-wide special education survey of AISA(Association of International Schools in Africa) member schools. Surprising information about the diversity of our membership emerged: our 85 or so schools are as different from one another as can possibly be imagined, in size, program and philosophical orientation. From very small schools of 28 students to large schools of 1200, some member schools follow the British national curriculum, others offer a US-style program, while still others offer a hybrid of British and American and host country national education systems.
Many AISA schools admit special needs students, but the nature of the special programs varies widely: some schools support exceptional students entirely within inclusive settings while others withdraw students for special pull-out help. In some schools, support for special students is included as part of the regular tuition package, while in other schools a levy is charged for specialized assistance. There are very few specialist personnel on the continent, and their training also varies widely. Some special education teachers have come into their positions having taken a relatively brief course through the Royal Society of the Arts, while others have earned certificates in special education through a US Masters Degree program.
The results of this initial survey indicated a need for a common language about special education and also a clear message that schools wanted assistance and support in developing more effective programs to meet the learning needs of exceptional children (children with learning disabilities, ESL and the highly capable).
Count Me In! is written for teachers (classroom and special educators) and administrators in international schools, both small and large. It is written by teachers and administrators in those same schools. It contains contributions from educational practitioners from Yaounde, Johannesburg, Lusaka, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, as well as important input from Stateside consultants. While the book has been written for all our colleagues in African international schools, class teachers and special educators may find the chapters on theory, collaboration and strategies for practice particularly relevant. Administrators may find the chapters on policy development, recruitment and professional development more pertinent to their roles as school leaders.
The purpose of this book is to ask teachers and administrators to re-think the place of the exceptional child within both the school and the regular classroom, and to provide practical strategies that classroom teachers can use with exceptional children. For the purpose of this book the terms exceptional children or students are used interchangeably with "children with special needs."
Specifically, we have set out to:
• provide a theoretical framework for inclusion;
• develop a common framework for thinking and talking about special education
service delivery among educators in international schools;
• further the development of a common, special education "language" among
international school educators;
• de-mystify the "special" in special education so that more international schools
will feel able to embrace the challenges and rewards of welcoming exceptional
children into their ranks;
• present practical strategies in order to assist international schools in their move
towards greater inclusivity and more effective practice.
Re-thinking the place of the exceptional child will require a re-evaluation of what we think we know about exceptional children and a re-invention of our programs for them based upon recent developments in cognitive psychology, learning theory and research on the functioning of the human brain. A daunting task, but not impossible.
There is a strong spirit of camaraderie that brings together international schools in Africa, that imbues our relationships with support for each other, and drives us forward with hope for the future. Rethinking our classrooms and our teaching to become more inclusive is a challenge we will embrace.
Ochan Kusuma-Powell and William Powell
Kusuma-Powell, O. (1997). Assessing special education and ESL programs in American Overseas/International Schools in Africa. Washington D.C.: Overseas Schools Advisory Council, Department of State.