Duchess of Sussex joins Chevener on Skype call to Ghana

Networking is a constituent part of Chevening’s offer. Scholars are encouraged – even expected – to take advantage of their time in the UK to meet with people they wouldn’t usually encounter in their home countries, and exchange passions, hopes, and ideas with their new connections.

Once in a blue moon, the person you’re exchanging ideas with might happen to be a member of the British Royal Family. This is what happened when Malawian scholar Mayamiko Chibowa was invited to an event attended by the Duchess of Sussex in her capacity as the patron of the ACU.

‘Meeting Her Royal Highness was phenomenal,’ Mayamiko said, reflecting on that most extraordinary of mornings. ‘It was a unique platform to present an overview of the barriers to inclusive education in different parts of Africa, which was largely informed by my interaction with Commonwealth Scholars in Ghana.’

Connecting through technology

Mayamiko was already deep into an informative Skype conversation with the Ghana-based scholars from Kenya, Tanzania, and Cameroon when the Duchess joined in.

Connectedness is at the heart of this year’s Commonwealth Day celebrations. Mayamiko’s interaction with like-minded scholars based halfway across the world, who themselves hail from different Commonwealth countries, is a testament to how technology can help connect minds, and how international scholarship can help forge transnational connections that can drive the cogs of change.

‘Technology plays a great role in creating networks and linkages for advancing learning and knowledge,’ Mayamiko noted. ‘I had a great conversation with Hilary Harawo from Kenya, who is studying Rehabilitation, Disability, and Development. Without travelling to Kenya (or Ghana, where he is based), I was able to connect and learn from another student in my field of inclusive education.’

Connecting with alike minds

Mayamiko herself is studying Special Educational Needs, Disability and Inclusive Education at Roehampton University and her conversation with Hilary enabled them to draw parallels from their own experiences.

‘Barriers to inclusive education are largely similar in countries like Malawi and Kenya, so cross learning among Commonwealth countries could be a great strategy in addressing similar challenges,’ she said.

The cross-pollination of ideas and experiences is something that Mayamiko sees as an integral part of her master’s experience. She has coursemates from Ghana, Greece, the USA, Spain, Colombia, South Africa, and the UK amongst those that she regularly interacts with.

Mayamiko Chibowa in conversation with Devika Ranjan

Reconnecting the disconnected

‘These networks will continue to be relevant after I go back home specifically in research. When I return, my focus will be on lobbying for issues of inclusion with evidence-based research that will influence both policy and practice in inclusive education.’

Although the theme of this year’s Commonwealth Day focuses on connections, Mayamiko’s academic pursuits are driven by a desire to support those with special educational needs and disabilities, as they are more likely to become disconnected from their communities if education systems are not adapted to include them.

‘The biggest step that needs to be taken before we can think of adapting education systems is to challenge negative attitudes that exist in all areas of society. These attitudes are the biggest barrier to inclusion. Inclusion challenges long-standing barriers and social norms. There has been an outcry on how the curriculum and assessment methods are rigid and unsuitable for children with disabilities and other special educational needs. However, without changing the attitudes of government officials, teachers, and other key stakeholders, simply reviewing the curriculum alone may not be enough.’

Promoting inclusion is Mayamiko’s mission when she returns to Malawi after she completes her master’s degree. She believes the connections she has made during her time in the UK – in the classroom, outside of it, and online – will help her change perceptions, policy, practices, and ultimately the prospects of disadvantaged children.

Duchess of Sussex in conversation with Mayamiko Chibowa

Photographs courtesy of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. More photos available on Flickr

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