Tusome's Approach to Inclusive Education
Nearly a decade ago, the Kenyan government recognized the need to improve students’ literacy and numeracy skills. To address this, Kenya implemented the Tusome Early Grade Reading Activity in 2014. It introduced interventions at the grade 1 level beginning in 2015. Taking its name from the Kiswahili word for “let’s read,” the Tusome program was a five-year, nationwide effort.
According to one assessment at 14 special schools and units for deaf and blind students in first and second grades in Kenya, few children who are deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision read fluently with comprehension. Also, literacy outcomes for these children appear much lower than children without disabilities in similar schools.
Tusome’s program design did not take students with disabilities into account when it originally launched. Early in its development, however, Tusome integrated Special Needs Education (SNE) to have a sizable impact on students with a range of learning needs. There was a specific request to focus on children who are deaf or hard of hearing and children who are blind or low vision.
The U.S. Government Education Strategy says that all individuals should have access to education and skills to become productive members of society. Programs like Tusome have an opportunity to bridge the literacy gap so that all students have access to quality learning through accessible teaching and learning materials and individualized support.
Tusome materials required adaptation to suit a variety of instructional needs. This signaled an important contribution to more equitable and inclusive education in Kenya.
Engaging Local Experts
When the decision was made to integrate SNE into Tusome, the Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) became involved. KISE served as the main reference point for all SNE considerations. This included:
- Leading the adaptation of literacy instructional materials and assessments for students who were deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision.
- Providing guidelines for incorporating the needs of students who were deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision.
- Training SNE teachers and education managers, including the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), on the use of accessible instructional materials. (The TSC is an independent commission that manages human resources in the education sector.)
According to KISE, Tusome was the first national education program to develop literacy materials for children with disabilities concurrently with standard-issue materials. This allowed all students to progress through the course together.
Learnings for Similar Programs
Integrating an inclusive education approach in the Tusome program also highlighted key lessons for other similar programs:
- To promote inclusivity, national literacy programs should integrate inclusive education early in their development.
- Intervention for students with disabilities should be carefully considered and guided by existing evidence. Sufficient time should be allocated to adapt materials for students with disabilities and their teachers. Be aware that interventions are not one-size-fits-all and should vary based on the individual needs of students. The Tusome program ensured that students with different disabilities received specialized support.
- National literacy programs should offer customized support for SNE teachers and students based on their specific needs, if possible.
- Include the Ministry of Education and any government agencies (like KISE) that directly coordinate and support SNE issues in the program as soon as possible. This ensures programs like Tusome are developed in line with other ongoing initiatives and policies.