ABU(Junior Group) Fine Work

“What should your country do to cover all visually impaired children in schooleducation programmes and also provide them quality education?”
Slr Lanka Hiranya M. Fernando (20/female)

Can you imagine a situation of being a child in room surrounded by four walls? You know no life besides this. All you hear is the voices of the people in the vicinity. School is an unknown word to you. Depressing isn't it? This is the life for lots of visually impaired children in Sri Lanka.
What do we mean by the term visually impaired? It is important to understand that this term does not only refer to people who have no vision at all, but also to people with partial vision. This essay calls for a discussion of two broad topics. Firstly we have to consider what my country, Sri Lanka has done to support children in school programmes. This means that it is compulsory for all visually impaired children to attend school. There are also other disabilities like hearing impaired and autism but this essay will only concentrate on people who are visually impaired. now the term used is no longer disabled but differently abled. The second issue is what the country can do to ensure high quality education.Education is mandatory to every single citizen. What do we mean by the term Education? This refers to one’s ability to broaden his knowledge and use it to achieve his full potential. However the term education is a complex one. It does not only refer to learning but also refers to been able to develop one’s ability in sports, music, debating and other activities. The development of education starts from a young age in school, is further developed when one attends university and results are shown when one obtains a suitable career. This essay will discuss the current status of the education of the visually impaired, the problems encountered and potential solutions. Solutions for students with no vision are different to those with partial vision.
According to the Ministry of Social welfare (2003) 71% of the visually impaired students have received some form of schooling and only 6%have gone beyond the ordinary levels. According to another survey there are 200 blind graduates most of whom are teachers, but some who are practicing lawyers. There also 13 blind schools and approximately 2500 visually impaired students in different parts of the country. From the statistics available it can be seen that not all visually impaired children are given schooling. This opportunity must be made available by the state. Wherever necessary the state must provide scholarships to those who cannot afford schooling. Braille is the universal language of the blind. Therefore Braille literacy is a must. I the short run it may be beneficial to educate children in special schools. These schools will train them to develop their education. In ways best suited to them. However in the long run this may not be an ideal situation as they will have to work with sighted peers. Also there are no special universities for these students.
The adoption of the Salamanca Statement in 1994 provided a framework for action.
"Inclusion and participation are essential to human dignity and to the enjoyment and exercise of Human Rights"
The guiding principles of this is that ordinary schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic or other conditions. Though these policies have been introduced the implementation has been slow. Firstly, there are only a few schools that have the inclusive system of education. Secondly, the specially trained teacher is assigned to more than one school and to children with different disabilities. Here the visually impaired children get the least amount of attention. The teachers of such schools should obtain training in resource centres on the use of Braille and other skills required to use special software.
In my case, I have no vision at all but have studied in a mainstream school all my life. I was fortunate to have a Braille Note-taker which I use for my studies and examinations. I also have special software which converts text into digital format. I was therefore very easily able to study in a regular school. However, I maybe one of the very few people in Sri Lanka who have these facilities. It is not easily affordable, and majority of students will not have access to this type of equipment. If these facilities were made available to visually impaired students they would adapt very well in an inclusive school. Students should also be given the opportunity to record their lectures. This is an effective system as the work done can then be retained and the student can study independently. For the partially sighted text books should be provided with larger print and they should not be expected to manage with Braille books.
Students and teachers must be made aware of the importance for visually impaired students to participate in sports and other extra curricular activities. A special sports instructor must be assigned at least once a week so that the students can have the same enjoyment as others. Sports are as important as studying in the development of the child. As stated by John F. Kennedy,
"All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent"
Students should also be encouraged to campaign for responsible positions in school societies. In certain subjects like Mathematics and Accounts there calculations involved. Others like Economics have graphs. With assistance it is possible for visually impaired students to attempt these subjects. I was able to sit for public examinations in these subjects with help given to study them. It is also important that visually impaired students be made computer literate as the commercial world is IT based. Teachers must be trained to understand the capabilities of these children and to realize that sight is not an obstacle to achieving most things.
However these solutions are nor always attainable as there are certain problems encountered. Sri Lanka is a developing country and the State may have other priorities. Also regular teachers may not have time to spend learning Braille and get trained in other special skills. There is also the conservative idea among certain parents that visually impaired children do not need schooling. These parents need to be educated first. The country has a major role to play in shaping our future.


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