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Birmingham University, in the UK, has been investigating the role of itinerant teachers (ITs) in promoting inclusive education for the visually impaired as part of a one-year comparative study in Kenya and Uganda. Because most early learning comes through vision, children with visual impairment take longer to learn the basics of literacy, daily living skills, personal organisation and mobility skills. Intervention at the pre-school stage is vital to encourage them to learn and develop, and to prepare them for mainstream schooling.
ITs spend a small proportion of their time at home with visually impaired pre-school children. They provide tutoring in pre-Braille skills – such as sorting and matching activities – and encourage the development of young children’s orientation and mobility skills. They serve as links to health services by giving health professionals information about a child’s circumstances and visual functioning. They can follow progress with children who have been prescribed spectacles or low vision aids (LVAs), provide parents with information on where to buy them and access funding for those unable to afford them.
Education authorities in Kenya and Uganda are working to meet the needs of those with the greatest barriers to learning, including children with visual impairment. They are employing ITs, who are generally qualified class teachers and have undertaken some formal training in the education of children with visual impairment, either through a residential course or distance education programme.
Itinerant teachers are involved in the following activities:
- helping identify children with disabilities who are not in school
- providing counselling on how to raise a visually-impaired child,
- often leading families to see their child in a more positive way
- overcoming community prejudice against seeking education for such children
- raising awareness among teachers of the needs of visually impaired pupils and the challenges of including them in mainstream education.
The promotion of Universal Primary Education for all children has dramatically increased the number of children attending school. Combined with the slow recruitment of additional teachers, the resulting rises in teacher-to-pupil ratios have made it even harder to provide support for children with visual impairment. The education of children with visual impairment in local mainstream schools can only be successful when the medical, education and rehabilitation sectors work together. Far more ITs are needed to support children in mainstream settings. It is important to act to overcome the many obstacles they face.
- provide clear job descriptions so headteachers and communities understand their role
- ensure ITs are trained to deliver a programme in motor, communication and social skills and
- involve parents in practising these skills with the child
- offer assistance with transport to eye clinics and children’s hospitals
- ensure ITs have access to appropriate teaching materials
- encourage health professionals working in eye care and paediatrics to liaise with ITs and to help increase their skills ensure schoolchildren who need them are provided with LVAs and know how to use them.
Funded by: Sightsavers International
Paul Lynch and Steve McCall
Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR)
School of Education
University of Birmingham
Birmingham BI5 2TT
UK Tel: +44 121 41448664
Fax: +44 121 4144865
Contact the contributor:
Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research,
University of Birmingham, UK
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