Pamoja project research: working towards access to education for all

Margo Greenwood, July 2016
Landscape showing a town built on an area of coastline, with mountains on a peninsula in the background.

“Our research is based on community-based participatory research, which involves respectful collaboration with the community”

Update on first stage of research within Pamoja project, Kenya

Sightsavers’ Pamoja (meaning ‘together’) education project in Kenya has started! The project has been set up to help achieve universal access to basic education for all children with disabilities, initially in the Homa Bay region, then nationally. Research has been designed throughout the project to inform and strengthen activity, leading to research-fed interventions.

Here’s an update on what the Pamoja research team has been doing so far…

Why this kind of research?

Our research is based on community-based participatory research (CBPR), which involves respectful collaboration with the community. It is about shared decision-making and ownership, and members of the community are involved in planning, gathering evidence, analysing it and sharing what is found. We all contribute and respect the unique strengths that each person brings. As well as asking specific research questions, the design of this kind of research seeks to break down social injustice and helps everyone to re-think power structures and issues. The overall aim of CBPR is to increase knowledge and understanding of the situation being studied together, to construct meaning together and integrate this with interventions and policy change to improve the quality of life for the community.

A group of adults sitting in a circle inside a classroom.

What we are trying to find out

On a general level, the research team needs to know how teachers are experiencing teaching children with disabilities, how the children with disabilities experience being in school and how parents experience supporting them. We want to know this throughout the project to inform and strengthen the help being given and the advocacy being planned.

Before any intervention starts, we have also asked questions such as: In what ways could communication between parents or carers of children with disabilities and the school be strengthened? What do you see/experience as obstacles for getting community support of school inclusion of children with disabilities? Can you think of reasons why there might not be community support of school inclusion of children with disabilities? Can you suggest key ways in which the PAMOJA project can increase community support for the inclusion of children with disabilities in your school?

Children were asked questions that were very easy to understand.

Recruiting community researchers

A community researcher is someone who lives in the local area where the research is taking place, cares about the research topic and isn’t a professional researcher. They work alongside a professional researcher, interviewing community members and observing professional situations, enriching the research with their unique contribution.

We recruited ten community researchers from the Homa Bay region: one teacher from each of the pilot schools and five community members that are linked to the schools in some way.

Community researcher training

Before gathering evidence in the five schools, Margo (Sightsavers researcher) spent time with the team, training everyone in research skills and learning from them about the details of the context. Together we refined the research questions and the practical planning for the school visits. We explored more about this kind of research, practised some interview techniques, became Dictaphone experts and used roleplay to gain skills in leading research focus groups. We also discussed ethical issues and how to protect the participants before, during and after the research. Then on the first day of evidence gathering, we all went to the first school together, rather than in the usual research pairs, to observe and practise in a real setting.

Two men stand either side of a woman who is using crutches.
Three of our peer researchers on the first day of gathering evidence in a local school.

Data collection in each school

Pilot school 1 is a mainstream school. On the interview day, parents of children with disabilities, teachers and pupils were enthusiastic to share their experiences with the peer researchers in small focus groups. Parents and pupils gave their views in ‘Dholuo’, the local dialect, as their voices were recorded and could be translated later.

Pilot school 2 is also a mainstream school. A record thirty parents of children with disabilities arrived and were keen to engage in research focus groups, again in the local dialect.

Pilot school 3 is a boarding school for deaf students. During the interviews the pupils expressed themselves in sign language and one of the teachers interpreted. Parents had travelled significant distances to give their views to the team, with twenty taking part.

Pilot school 4 is what is termed an ‘integrated school’: a mainstream school which also has school boarders with a range of disabilities. Most pupils with disabilities join in the mainstream classes, and there is also a unit for pupils with more severe learning disabilities. The research team was welcomed to the school by the headteacher who took us for a tour before embarking on the research activity. Teachers, pupils and parents came to share their views with the community researchers, including parents of boarders, who travelled long distances.

Pilot school 5 is a boys’ boarding school. Twenty parents, five teachers and eight pupils participated in the research focus groups. It was apparent that many of the parents had also travelled long distances to have their voices heard.

Altogether, 93 parents of children with disabilities, 31 class teachers and 30 children with disabilities spoke to us about their experiences of inclusive education in the five schools.

Findings from first stage of project

We are currently analysing this first stage of evidence from the five pilot schools. The teacher interviews were in English, so they are being analysed in the UK. The parent and pupil interviews were in the local dialect and are being translated and analysed in Homa Bay. Margo will bring it all together to look for emerging themes and will make recommendations for the project with support from the community researchers. This will be done in time to feed into project intervention planning.

We will write another blog with our initial findings and how this is influencing the project activity in the region soon.

Partnering with evaluation team

In our planning, we have been able to include gathering information for evaluation purposes. Daisy from the Sightsavers evaluation team came out for the research visits to schools and as part of any interviews and focus groups, she could gather information needed from participants. For example, the project needs to measure support given by the community for disability inclusion in schools. So the parents, teachers and children created statements as to what this kind of community support looks like for them as a starting point for the evaluation.

A woman holding some sheets of paper speaks to a man sitting next to her.
Daisy from the evaluation team gathering qualitative evidence for her baseline indicator.

Next steps

Our next steps are to write up our findings for the first stage of the project. This will be done during July to inform the next stage of the project. We will then start planning as a community research team to find out teachers’, parents’ and children’s experiences as project-related changes happen in the schools in relation to disability inclusion. We also plan to capture perceptions of community members in relation to community events planned.

For any other information about the research, please contact Margo Greenwood ([email protected]), Charles Odol ([email protected]) or Elizabeth Owuor-Oyugi ([email protected]).

This blog was a collaboration between Margo Greenwood, Research Associate at Sightsavers and Charles Odol, project manager.

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