Skip to main content

IU professor leads study abroad program to advance inclusive education in Ghana

May 16, 2024

Tina O'Neal, clinical assistant professor of special education in the IU School of Education in Indianapolis, designed the Ghana Stud... Tina O'Neal, clinical assistant professor of special education in the IU School of Education in Indianapolis, designed the Ghana Study Abroad program. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Tina O’Neal, an expert in urban and special education, is leading six urban education students on an inaugural short-term study abroad program to Ghana during the last two weeks of May. This new partnership with the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis, the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology will offer professional development opportunities in inclusive education to Ghanaian educators while broadening IU students’ perspectives on urban education in a global context.

“The world is becoming more urbanized, and cities are becoming more dense in population,” said Tambra Jackson, dean of the IU School of Education in Indianapolis. “There are unique challenges in urban centers, and those extend to education.

“A common barrier is resources, and that is not just a United States problem; it is a global issue. The work we do focused on urban education is an international issue, and we have an opportunity to share our expertise and learn from others around the world.”

IU School of Education Indianapolis Dean Tambra Jackson, center right and professor Tina O'Neal, center left, prepare students for a ... IU School of Education Indianapolis Dean Tambra Jackson, center right and professor Tina O'Neal, center left, prepare students for a study abroad trip to Ghana. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana UniversityIn Ghana, some of the barriers to education include access and infrastructure, which are especially heightened for learners with disabilities. O’Neal, clinical assistant professor of special education, has centered her career on advancing inclusive K-12 education, so every child may access high-quality instruction, support and interventions.

“In 2015, Ghana enacted an inclusive education policy, similar to the United States Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” O’Neal said. “However, they need professional development for their teachers and resources on how to meet the needs of diverse learners.”

Ghana’s inclusive education policy is especially focused on learners who have special needs, including those with disabilities, who are economically disadvantaged or who are part of a linguistic, ethnic, gender, geographic or religious minority. As a result, all aspects of education, including the curriculum and teaching methods, present opportunities for promoting inclusion.

For two weeks O’Neal will be traveling with five undergraduates and one graduate student from the IU School of Education in Indianapolis. The undergrads will observe and interview Ghanian teachers as part of an independent study that they will present upon returning to campus. The graduate assistant is helping O’Neal with logistics and administrative support, undergraduate student engagement, assessment and evaluation, and communication. Some of their site visits include Demonstration School for the Deaf (Demodeaf)-Mampong, Echoing Hills Village Orphanage and Rehabilitation Centre, Empower Challenged Children, Garden City Special School, Future Leaders School and University Basic School, Legon.

Supported by a Sustainable Development Goals Grant from the IU Indianapolis Office of International Affairs, O’Neal and Jackson went on an exploratory trip in July 2023 to lay a foundation for the study abroad program and establish relationships with K-12 schools and universities. After the trip, the office named O’Neal a 2023-24 faculty fellow, which helped the School of Education expand its study abroad initiatives overall.

As O’Neal designed the Ghana Study Abroad program, she knew it was important for IU education students to understand and appreciate the country’s history and culture.

During planning sessions, education students learned about the African diaspora, Ghanaian culture and urban education in a global context... During planning sessions, education students learned about the African diaspora, Ghanaian culture and urban education in a global context. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University“Inclusive education is not limited to supporting elementary students’ disabilities but is an invitation for us to wholistically engage with learners, which includes understanding their cultural backgrounds,” O’Neal said. “We want to help our IU education students understand the importance of intersectionality and develop cultural competency.”

IU education students were required to take the Intro to African Studies course taught by Oladele Omosegbon to prepare for the trip to Ghana. They also had preparation meetings with O’Neal, who would invite lecturers such as Nana Amoah-Ramey, assistant professor of African studies at IU Bloomington, and Eric Kyere, associate professor of social work, to speak with participants.

“I’ve learned so much through the classes and prep work,” said Elyse Beard, an elementary urban education student. “This was my first time learning in depth about the history of the Atlantic slave trade, African history and Ghanaian culture.”

For Anija Brame, an English and secondary urban education student, this experience is also personal.

“My experience in high school opened me up to the idea of pursuing a career education, especially because I want to improve education for minority students,” she said. “Learning about the Black diaspora and how students of other cultures are being taught is helping me become the educator I aspire to be.”

Ebony Crowe, an urban education studies Ph.D. candidate, is the graduate assistant for this program. She is also helping with a study called “Navigating New Horizons: Pre-Service Teachers’ Perceptions of Inclusive Education Practices in Accra and Cape Coast, Ghana.

“In my work, I aim to investigate the experiences and perceptions of pre-service teachers regarding inclusive education practices for students with disabilities in Ghana,” Crowe said. “I explore how these educators, while studying abroad, interpret and engage with inclusive education methods in a different cultural context.

“My study assesses the differences and similarities in inclusive practices between Ghana and the United States, aiming to enrich the pre-service teachers’ understanding and approaches to teaching diverse learners. Additionally, it will contribute to broader discussions on global education and the preparation of teachers for diverse educational settings.”

Dean Tambra Jackson speaks to education students about the School of Education's global focus and mission. Photo by Liz Kay... Dean Tambra Jackson speaks to education students about the School of Education's global focus and mission. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana UniversityHowever, there are financial barriers for students to access such international opportunities. The school’s Dean’s Fund for Educational Excellence & Innovation helped fill in the gap.

“The Ghana Study Abroad program is a perfect match to our mission, and we have been raising funds to support students,” Jackson said. “Funding is a major obstacle for students in urban areas, so we wanted to make sure this trip was affordable for them. The Dean’s Fund played an important role in making sure we can get them to Ghana.”

After this trip, O’Neal plans to keep the partnership going. They have a three-year agreement with partners in Ghana to expand the program’s scope with each cycle, providing additional opportunities for IU students and current educators to understand urban education in a global context and for IU faculty to conduct inclusive education research.

“IU has decided that international work is important to the work we are trying to do,” Jackson said. “We have the strategic pillar of ‘Service to the State and Beyond,’ and this is the beyond.”

Author

IU Newsroom

Nikki Livingston

Storyteller

More stories