Telling the story? The Commodification of Impairment and Disability in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone

Maria Berghs, PhD, research fellow, University of York, UK

“You get me? You need to start filming people. That way people will see!” said Mohammed in criticism of my work. In post-conflict Sierra Leone, people like Mohammed had a sophisticated understanding of research. Due to a mediatised war and post-conflict relief economy, people disabled by a ten year civil conflict (1991-2002) had a lot of contact with a plethora of journalists, photographers, film-makers, health care professionals, lawyers, non-governmental organisations, missionaries, government workers and researchers. This also entailed high expectations.

Writing and photography were outdated modes of social action and disabled people now expected to be seen (i.e. on YouTube or in films) and speak directly to an audience. The biggest apprehensions they voiced were about whether research was actually going to benefit them, just elites or myself (Berghs 2012)? Despite social activism most people reiterated that impairment was ‘their problem’ and ‘survival’ was still their primary concern. There were also huge differences between educated male elites and people living in neglected rural areas, like orphans taken up in an extended family or illiterate women. Continue reading

Can special education make a difference?

Rune Sarromaa Hausstätter, PhD, Lillehammer University College, Norway

When placed in special education, the famous philosopher and cartoon hero Bart Simpson expressed his concern about the challenge he was supposed to overcome: how can I catch up the others by working slow? The concern expressed by Bart points at a serious challenge facing the area of special education. In a historical context, special education was offered, not as an alternative, but as a solution for groups of children that were not accepted by the ordinary educational system.  As the goal of creating a school for all children became a major political goal, the role of special education changed. The special school system continued to exist, but after the Second World War special education changed from being only an alternative located in special schools to also become an educational support system for ordinary teaching.

The role and success of special education as a support system for ordinary teaching is the topic in one of my recent articles, (1), published in the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research together with Marjatta Takala. The Finnish PISA results are another reason why we wanted to write this article. It is stated in several articles that one reason for the Finnish PISA success is the use of special education as an active support for children who struggle with school topics. In other words, it seems like the Finnish school system, at least partly, have solved the problem raised by Bart Simpson. The Finnish system is in this article compared with the Norwegian special educational system. Continue reading