THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Ever since the lockdown began, Aswin (name changed), a vision-impaired Class VI student, has had a very tough time. Owing to the social distancing norms, along with many mainstream educational institutions, his school for the visually-challenged also moved to online classes. But Aswin is yet to familiarise himself with the change as online education fails to meet the needs of vision-impaired students like him. Poor network and communication gap with his parents have added to his problems.
Aswin isn’t alone. Most students who have impairments face similar challenges with digital education. While even the abled are struggling with various technical issues, it has become more challenging for the differently-abled as it has become difficult to access the assistive materials from their homes. Parents too are less equipped to help them.
“For the visually-impaired, a sense of touch is important. Naturally, it is impossible in digital education. Assistive technologies such as Braille books, sheets and Android phones are needed. However, these are inaccessible to many. As a result, no hands-on training is given,” said Vinod B, assistant teacher, Government School for the Visually Impaired, Thiruvananthapuram.He also added that vision-impaired children need specially trained teachers. Although parents are currently assisting students during the online classes, using Braille sheets poses a challenge for many.
“Online classes have begun and teachers have started sharing assignments through WhatsApp groups. But there are limitations as the use of Braille is challenging and we don’t know how to use the same,” said Jayalakshmi J, a parent.There is a different set of problems faced by the hearing impaired. “Although our students are following the same syllabus which is being taught through the Victers Channel, students having problems in deciphering the same due to the absence of Indian Sign Language (ISL). We have made WhatsApp groups for the children to communicate with the teachers and clarify their doubts,” said Abdul Hakeem, headmaster, Government Deaf and Dumb School, Vazhuthacaud.
He said: “There exists a communication gap at home as well. Parents are also not well versed in ISL. The absence of appropriate technology is also a problem. Currently, there are about 46 students in our school. We are planning to impart online classes in ISL.”Meanwhile, although the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH) has been conducting online classes ever since the lockdown began, the teachers express that there are limitations.
“Though connectivity issues are present, online classes are being conducted. We are also trying to find out new ways in making online learning more effective such as uploading videos which can be downloaded and viewed later on. However, counselling sessions have taken a backseat and online classes are not contributing to the holistic development of the child,” said Silvy Max Meena, an English professor at NISH.