A school principal from eastern Kenya is learning firsthand from Red Deer educators on what he can do to improve the lives of 96 children with special needs.
Shongolo Bute Galgalo (Mr. Bute) of the Lamu Special School for the Mentally Handicapped arrived on June 10 in Canada and over a seven-week period he’ll be observing various special education programs in Red Deer, Calgary and other communities.
For seven years, Galgalo has overseen children aged six to 19 who have come from as far away as 500 km to live and learn on the school grounds.
Only six teachers, including Galgalo, and six support staff are on hand to help the children whose disabilities range from speech problems and low cognition to blindness.
What has amazed him so far on his first trip to Canada is the level of staffing and resources, as well as how children with special needs are integrated into regular school programming rather than being separated into different schools.
He observed a pre-school class at the Children’s Services Centre in downtown Red Deer and was intrigued that it had teacher assistants, not just teachers.
Education assistants are not employed at the school found in Mokowe, a town located in mainland Kenya, and within a short boat ride from the small island of Lamu.
The centre’s sensory room also caught his attention — a place of fun lights, soft places to land, and other therapeutic materials that allow children to either calm down or be stimulated.
“We have one girl who is severely autistic and it’s very difficult for her to sit in the class to get instruction,” said Galgalo. “We need a place where we can calm her down fast.”
He was impressed that schools within Red Deer Public School District, as well as a public school in Millet, 40 km south of Edmonton, are allowing some children to attend a regular school for a certain subject they are doing well in. The child still goes into special programming for weak subjects.
In Kenya, a child who appears to be improving academically is taken to the regular school to attend all classes.
“Through experience, we have seen sometimes that child will drop out of school,” he said.
Galgalo will leave on July 29 to return to Kenya.
The opportunity came through Central Alberta-based international development organization A Better World, which sponsored his flight and ensured he had accommodations with families.
Michelle Coghlin, pre-school special education teacher at the Children’s Services Centre, said she figured Galgalo had never seen such a cohesive team of professionals — including two speech language pathologists and an occupational therapist — work with children as young as three.
“How creative he must be to make use of limited resources,” said Coghlin. “And he still smiles.”
This trip has been a great educational tool for him because he has already thought of a few changes that could make a significant impact.
For one thing, Galgalo would like to see attitudes change towards special education. That would involve training regular school teachers to know how to handle these children, he said.
A primary school is located next door, but the challenge is one teacher can already be handling around 70 students. Hiring educational assistants would be great, but it would take financial resources.
He said money could come from various sources, including from Kenya’s minister of education, donors and friends, as well as parents.