The role of integrated education for blind children
Over the years, studies in child development, sociology, and special education have led enlightened educators to the conclusion that blind children grow, flourish, and achieve greater self and social fulfilment by being nurtured in the least restrictive environment. Through local education, supported by well prepared specialists in education of the blind, these children may enjoy everyday common experiences essential to the development of a keen awareness of the realities of the world around them. With proper technical assistance, consultation given to regular classroom teachers, and a broad educational environment, blind children are able to show their true worth; they are then more readily accepted socially by their sighted counterparts. Statistics reveal that not even 10% of blind children in most of the developing countries are receiving any kind of education, and therefore, integrated education is considered to be the only practical approach. It is the economically viable, psychologically superior, and socially acceptable model to bring all those unreached blind children into the mainstream of education.
Objectives of integration
The true objectives of integrated education are to:
- Provide the same opportunities and educational experiences for blind children as those provided for sighted children
- Allow blind children – and their families, neighbours, and friends – to interact socially in normal situations
- Change the typical public response to blindness by demonstrating that blind children are children first and blind children next
- Provide a natural basis for adult life experiences so that blind students may take their proper places as contributing members in all sectors of society.
Integrated education is not simply placing a child in a regular classroom. The child needs assistance. Blind children can easily assimilate more than 80% of teaching and experience in the regular classroom if they are provided with the correct material in the correct form at the correct time. Therefore, development of the right educational environment will make integration of blind children a reality.
Factors contributing to the success of integration
The major means of attaining successful integration are:
- Provision of specialised teachers to serve as resource persons, to prepare special materials, as required, and to provide special instruction in those skills peculiar to blindness such as Braille reading and writing, use of reader services, auditory perceptual training and orientation and mobility.
- Provision of all appropriate educational texts and selected aids and appliances. If textbooks are not available in Braille, substantial quantities of individually transcribed Braille materials may be required.
- Provision of consultation for regular classroom teachers, school administrators, families, local health authorities and the general public on matters dealing with education of blind children, specialised training techniques and selection of appropriate materials.
- Full use of local consultants, specialists and volunteers with special skills or those who are willing to be trained to assist in specialised ways, such as through reading services, or materials preparation including Braille transcription.
Curriculum in integrated schools
A curriculum for blind children is never less than the curriculum for sighted children; on the contrary it is more comprehensive. In addition, for every skill expectation of the sighted child, blind children must do more. Apart from academic subjects, integration becomes effective when the blind child is well trained in compensatory skills such as Braille reading methods, use of slate and stylus, use of audio equipment, development of visual perceptual activities, speed and accuracy in the use of the abacus, skills of daily living and orientation and mobility. In order to enable the blind child to follow the general curriculum without any difficulty, the resource teacher, in consultation with the regular teacher, can make changes in the presentation of materials, if necessary. There are four principles involved in the preparation of materials.
- Duplication is the most encouraged method of materials preparation
- Modifications, in terms of content, method of display, type of material used, and the response expectation from the child, are sometimes made
- Sometimes, there is no suitable way to modify materials and therefore an experience may have to be Substituted so that it closely approximates that presented to sighted counterparts
- Under unavoidable circumstances, a concept or a lesson may have to be Omitted.
Selection of an appropriate model of integrated education
In developing countries, awareness of integrated education is found among organisations working for blind persons and amongst professionals as well. There is a common consensus that integrated education should aim at normalising the life and education of the blind child but opinions vary to a great extent about how to realise the goal of integration. A minimum of ten models of integrated education are currently observed in developing countries.
Resource models with residential facilities are predominately found in many integrated programmes in developing countries but these are as costly as special school settings. The itinerant model, composite areas approach, and other contract specific cost-effective models have to be tried out to reach the currently unreached blind children in rural areas. There are claims and counter-claims about the superiority of one model over the other. In this professional debate on models, the real impact of integrated education should not be lost.
In deciding the cost-effective models of integrated education, three factors have to be considered.
- Number of blind children in a locality
- The nature of services required by blind children
- Expertise needed by a special teacher and general classroom teachers
More than 90% of blind children in developing countries are from rural areas, which are scattered. In a rural locality, it is difficult to find the required number of blind children for resource models. In such circumstances, the only cost-effective model would be an itinerant approach where one resource teacher can attend to the needs of more blind children in a cluster with the assistance of general classroom teachers. Research clearly indicates that resource models are academically superior to all other models of integration but duplication of resource models for mass implementation is not feasible. Now inclusive education is increasing in special education and general education itself is sensitised to take care of the educational needs of blind children.
Blind children require different kinds as well as different levels of service. Children who are at the primary level will require the direct assistance of a specialist teacher whereas children at higher levels depend more on regular classroom teachers provided they are given the necessary materials for learning in the regular classroom. Therefore, selection of a model depends upon the nature of services needed by the blind children.
The success of integration also depends upon the extent of assistance provided by the general classroom teachers. In integration, the general classroom teacher and the specialist teacher are ‘two sides of the same coin’ and, therefore, the general education system itself should equip the regular classroom teachers in pre-service programmes to cope with the needs of disabled children in general and blind children in particular. Hence, blind children can be served effectively by a good combination of specialists and general classroom teachers.
Role of special schools
Special schools should change their role by serving blind children who cannot benefit by integration. Blind children with additional disabilities require special school services and, therefore, special schools will continue to provide services. In fact, they can become resource centres in a locality to promote the cause of integrated education.
In countries like India where the numbers of blind children are staggering, integration emerges as the only alternative to reach the unreached. Services for blind children in the country are more than 100 years old but the coverage of blind children in education is not even 10%. This scenario will change with the speedy implementation of integrated education.