ABU(Senior group) Fine Work

“What should your country do to cover all visually impaired children in school education programmes and also provide them quality education?”
Sri Lanka Bisomenike Marasinghe(57/ female)

The aims and goals of school education are the same for all children whether they have a disability or not. Children with vision impairment are no exception. However, they have special needs which have to be catered to in order to provide them with quality education.
Being totally blind from the age of four, I had to overcome a countless number of challenges to become what I am today. Yet all of them were made mere stepping-stones thanks to the education I received at the ResidentialSchool for the Blind. To it, I owe a great deal for I am successfully employed at the Ministry of Education and have a successful social life. My parents knew nothing of blindness but intuitively, they did what is best for me. After letting me freely grow up with seven other siblings who had no impairment, I was sent to the ResidentialSchool for the Blind. There, I was taught independent living skills and other skills required for socialisation in addition to the formal curriculum. Physical education was my favourite period. When I set out into society, I was well equipped to live on my own and my level of self-esteem was high. I still cherish fond memories of my school years.
As time went by, Residential Schoolsgave way to Integrated Units and with the subsequent adoption of the Salamanca Statement, mainstreaming came to be considered the most suitable means to provide quality education to children with disabilities. The rationale of mainstreaming or Inclusive Education is if with or without disability, we all live in the same society, why should children with disabilities be educated in seclusion. A noble thought, but how practical is it in developing countries like ours? As I feel, those who have suffered the most from mainstreaming without the proper resources are the vision impaired. In developing countries like ours where resources are scarce for even children with no impairments, how can we expect the physical and human resources required for the provision of quality education to the blind? I personally know many blind students who have got left behind in the exam based rat race.
Mere access to a mainstream school does not ensure access to quality education. In order to cater to the special needs of vision impaired students, schools must have specialised teachers who are competent in Braille, are able to use educational software and are willing to implement Individual Educational Plans. Blind students need to have access to computers with screen reading software, additional reading material in audio and Braille format etc. to make education even more inclusive, it is better if they have electronic braillers which can convert Braille into sighted and vice versa. Until such resources are available, school life is going to be hard for average blind students. Those who are persistent and have the courage might succeed.
Of course, we cannot wait for Sri Lanka to become a Utopia where all students have access to quality education. We must do with whatever we have. I strongly believe, based on personal experience, that the vision impaired must be sent to Residential Schools for the Blind at least for primary education where he will receive specialised formal and non-formal education. Moreover, it is cheaper for the State. All children with vision impairment can go to a regional residential school. Resources are thus shared by many whereas in a mainstream school there will be only an occasional blind student. In residential schools, classrooms are not overcrowded, assistive devices are at hand, teachers are specially trained. Furthermore, sports equipment and training is specialised too. Blind students in mainstream schools have no or minimum opportunity to participate in sports activities – a violation of their basic rights, Once the vision impaired child is fully adapted to his special condition and has mastered independent living skills, he can enter a mainstream school for his secondary education. I am confident that blind students will then be able to reap the fruits of education as intended by curriculum developers.
At the residential school, I got many opportunities to demonstrate my leadership qualities. I did not feel ashamed to do anything as I knew very well that I was among equals. However, had I been in a mainstream school, I would have felt a bit uneasy. This would have had a negative impact on my personality development. This is why I suggest that a blind child should spend his early formative years in a residential school which will give him the confidence and make him realise his self-worth. Once he has built up his self-esteem, he can easily handle life in a mainstream school. By the time he goes there, he would only need to concentrate on the educational matters as he already has a good foundation knowledge of reading and writing just like the other kids in the class.
Most parents of vision impaired children are unaware of the possibilities there are to assist their child to develop to his fullest potential. Education itself plays a key role. Therefore, we must conduct awareness programmes, especially at village level. The school community of mainstream schools must be encouraged to participate in sensitization programmes. A change for the better in attitudes towards the blind is always welcome. It will make life more pleasant for blind students.
May I conclude by making a small wish. I hope that all vision impaired students receive a good education and succeed in life.


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