With helping hand from blind schools, visually impaired children see a bright future

Parental support and proper training key to helping blind students outperform others

Society

August 29, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

With helping hand from blind schools, visually impaired children see a bright future

Setting them on path to independence: Visually impaired girls provided smart canes by a school in New Delhi (Photo credit: National Association for the Blind/File photo)

With almost 40 million people, including 1.6 million children, India is home to the largest population of the blind and visually impaired due to uncorrected refractive error. Most are from the underprivileged section and remain unaware that their condition can be corrected at very little cost, says World Health Organisation.

Among millions of students across Delhi who had been waiting for this moment with great anxiety as the results of their class XII examinations were finally announced on July 30, was Ayush Prakash Jaiswal. He over overjoyed, like all other students, when he learnt that he had not only passed, but scored an impressive 95 pc in the exams. But there is a big difference between Jaiswal and most other students. He is visually impaired.

“I became blind at the age of four, but I accepted my disabilities and that is the only reason that has motivated me to bring my life out of the darkness. Fortunately for me, my parents came to know about a special school for visually impaired students like me and they got me admitted there. So, today, despite my disability, I am competing with all other students,” says Jaiswal, who was studying at the Tagore International School in Delhi.

Unfortunately, in India, Jaiswal is a rare exception than a rule, as most visually impaired children do not get any access to education and an opportunity to explore themselves, as a total lack of awareness in society still binds the disabled persons within four walls of their house.

Only one-third of blind children are provided education as few parents are aware of special schools that exist for disabled persons.

“We are catering to a very small percentage of students with visual impairment, more awareness is required about the abilities of persons with visual impairment in the community. We start with a basic step to new student to assess the current level of the student, so that they may be grouped with other students of the same level. After some time, we assess them again and select the schools where these students can be admitted on the basis of their performance,” Shantha Rangarajan, Principal of National Association for the Blind, a 30-year-old NGO working with visually impaired persons, tells Media India Group. Rangarajan goes on to say that in many cases the visually impaired children significantly outperform their sighted co-students.

Rangarajan explains that the first learning school for visually impaired starts at age group of 4 to 7 when the student joins a preparatory school, to learn basic concepts that children miss out on due to their impairment. Then they are admitted and prepared for integration into mainstream schools. Blind schools provide training to them in various areas of development such as teaching them daily living skills, sensory integration, language skills, reading and writing Braille, Mathematics with the help of Taylor frames and Abacus, orientation and mobility training within the school premises and outside, environmental awareness, techniques of independent movement and even the concept of money.

Making visually impaired students tech-savvy in the school is key to their success later in life (Photo: NAB/File photo)

Making them tech savvy key to preparation

With computers and other electronic gadgets common in classrooms nowadays, it is at the preparatory blind school itself, where students are provided with a proper orientation on computer keyboard to work on computer with screen readers to read and write independently, which helps them to study on their own as well as write their exams independently.

Technology training continues till the students are able to use laptops for reading and writing. By the time the students reach Class VI, most of them are trained and are provided with laptops which they carry to their schools and use for regular reading and writing, they are able to do everything that a sighted person does using internet. The books and other reading materials are converted into e-text books that are provided to the students.

However, it is not all a smooth sailing for the visually impaired students who face special difficulties in subjects like mathematics or science. “Teaching simple mathematics and science is easy for, but it becomes increasingly different when they are promoted from one class to another.  It usually depends on the students’ enthusiasm and their capabilities and how they acquire and develop the knowledge. Fortunately, most of the students are motivated and have immense curiosity to learn new topics,” says Sangeeta Joshi, senior resource teacher at National Association for the Blind.

Extra-curricular activities come to aid

One thing that helps the visually impaired develop their personality and character as well as help them in their education are sports and other extra-curricular activities. Visually impaired persons have achieved a lot in various sports.

The teachers say that when the students are exposed to various activities, they show their keen interest in activities apart from studies and they are encouraged to train and as a result many of them excel in a variety of sports or activities.

“I enjoy the extra-curricular activities. After joining Tagore International school, as I was studying with sighted students, the experience and the exposure changed. But it has helped in my development as the level was completely different from my previous school. Here, the competition is high and I have seen improvement in myself, while competing with normal students,” says Jaiswal.

Chess is a popular activity amongst visually impaired students (Photo: NAB/File photo)

Jaiswal adds that he has participated in many activities at school such as debates, declamation and also hosted many programmes as anchor or master of ceremony. Jaiswal is proud that he won a competition in rapid chess, winning the Rapid and Blitz Open in 2017. He went on to receive his FIDE rating in rapid chess where he stands a proud 1157 position worldwide.

“Some of our projects are funded by the government, even though we do not have regular trainers for many of the extra-curricular activities. In such cases, eminent names from various fields come to our schools and guide and support the students achieve their dreams,” says Rangarajan.

Parental support key for success

Even though the teachers and other interlocutors recognise the talent and encourage the visually impaired children to pursue their ambitions, unfortunately, often the situation is just the opposite at their homes where their parents often don’t attach much importance to them and consider them as a burden on rest of the family. This can be devastating for a student trying to chart out a life path, say the teachers.

“We have seen many such cases, where the children are considered as a burden, mostly their parents don’t even come once in a month to meet their children. So, it is the teachers and this organisation who work with these students. Only the parents of non-residential students take active participation in the education and advancement of their children,” says Rangarajan.

The teachers say that the government has been providing many schemes to help the visually impaired and essentially such as free Braille textbooks, along with a Braille kit, a smart cane and even smart phones are provided to the students. However, the teachers reiterate just getting the devices is not sufficient, the students need a lot of encouragement, motivation and support, along with proper training.

“We actually don’t get parental support for these students. But they have more curiosity to learn, once they enter into normal schools. Here, the pressure increases on the students and without any support and encouragement from their families, the children lag behind,” says Joshi.

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