Joined Up Schooling

Creating links between children in UK schools and in African schools is gaining recognition as a vital tool to raise awareness of global inequality and to foster a sense of global citizenship. A new publication, The World Classroom, offers a guide to teachers on how to set up links with schools in developing countries and arrange visits for teachers and students.

Here, Bristol headteacher David Hussey recalls an invigorating exchange of experiences with a partner school in Uganda, while over the page Derek Nkata and Bill Dalton report on the ground-breaking partnership between schools in the Masindi district of Uganda and schools in the UK.

Arafat is five and is playing happily with a wind-up plastic helicopter. He is seated on the ground circled and supported by a car tyre that helps him to balance, allowing him to use his hands. Although he is visually impaired with severe learning difficulties, he explores the toy carefully and has learnt how to wind it up. He laughs when he releases the rotor blades – perhaps at the air on his face, the noise it makes or the vibration on his hands. His mother is telling me how much progress her son has made since he started being formally educated, and his teacher Harriet sets out her aims for his education.

I am the the headteacher of Briarwood, a special school in Bristol for pupils with severe learning disabilities like Arafat. So, the content of our conversation is normal – because I would expect every child at my school to have similar targets – but the context is remarkable (for me at least). I am standing outside a hut in the Ugandan bush and Harriet is the special educational needs co-ordinator for the Kamurasi Demonstration School in Masindi, Uganda.

This pioneering mainstream primary school – which already had to cope with the challenge of teaching up to 140 pupils in a class – took the decision to provide education for all the children in their district. Over 140 pupils with special educational needs now attend the school, with needs ranging from sensory impairment to severe learning disabilities.

My connection with the Kamurasi School started with the recognition by our school team that, because we educated pupils from a diverse community in Bristol, we were well placed to develop a global link. Bristol has already developed school links across the globe. Now Briarwood joined the 16 schools in Bristol who have a partnership with a school in Masindi, Uganda.

Our global school partnership began in February 2006 when one of our teachers Rachel spent a week at Kamurasi. We had collected resources that would be helpful to our partner school in educating pupils with special educational needs – tactile books, and cause-and-effect toys that would motivate the children to explore the world around them – despite the obstacles to learning presented by their disability. Each class sent photographic and written material that would help a Ugandan child begin to understand the everyday lives of the Briarwood pupils. Rachel later returned armed with photographs and resources from Uganda as well as a passion and enthusiasm for the dynamic work of the Kamurasi School.

The passion and vision of people you have met is not easy to convey, and it was only when Ntairahu Byoona the Head - teacher from Kamurasi visited Briarwood the following September that we fully understood what Rachel had experienced. Leadership development has high priority in Bristol and I have had the opportunity to learn from eminent and famous educationalists from around the world. However, I wasn’t prepared for the master class in change management that I received in the week Byoona spent in my school

Following the Ugandan Government’s decision that all primary aged Ugandan children had the right to education, all primary schools faced large classes. Despite this, the Kamarasi team took the decision that “all children” would be taken literally and admitted children with special educational needs into the school.

This pioneering approach meant the school attracted pupils with special educational needs from a wide area. The daily journey to school is too difficult for many of these children, so the school has provided a dormitory.

The school also learnt about pupils like Arafat who couldn’t benefit from inclusion in the school because their level of disability was so high. Their response was the Kamurasi home based project. Harriet, the Kamurasi special educational needs co-ordinator visits the 15 children in the project in their homes. She is educating the families to the potential of their children (many parents think all they can do is provide care for their children), providing resources and her expert advice on how children with profound disabilities can be helped to be independent, to develop communication and to have a better quality of life. She visits the children every week even though she not only teaches a class in the school, but also supports the other teachers in the school in developing appropriate teaching strategies for the pupils with special educational needs.

The school recognises the high financial burden on a family with a child with disability. While we talked, Arafat’s mother pointed to a small goat nearby and explained that this was Arafat’s goat, a gift from the school. When this goat had produced two more goats, it would be returned to the school who would give it to another child. Harriet also showed me the brick-making site that the school has provided so parents can earn additional income.

To continue our work, the two schools have now successfully bid for a Global Curriculum Project grant funded by DFID through the Global School Partnership programme. The partnership between Briarwood and the Kamurasi School has the power to make great changes. Our schools are altering their curriculum to embrace global citizenship, we exchange resources, we are sharing our imaginative solutions to complex challenges and we are learning from each other’s vision of inclusion for all children.