Teaching Spoken English skills to blind and visually impaired students is one of the core programs in the Vision-Aid model. Teaching English to the visually impaired requires special considerations. The primary one is that teachers cannot use “visual cues” to teach students. Most of the traditional Spoken English training relies heavily on visual cues (showing someone a picture of an object, place or person and using the picture as a teaching aid. Sighted students can also use reading and writing as a support to improve conversation and speaking.
Teaching blind and visually impaired students’ needs special consideration – one can neither use visual cues nor can one rely on traditional reading and writing and instead use non visual teaching methods and braille where needed, to teach students how to speak.
Due to these challenges and several other factors, spoken English literacy is much lower in the blind and visually impaired population of students. This in turn becomes a barrier for employment and higher education.
When we first embarked to teach English to the visually impaired, the Vision-Aid team researched the market and education space extensively to come up largely empty. Very little had been done to teach English systematically at scale in this space, and so we had to embark on an ambitious project to develop training materials from the ground up.
We now have two comprehensive in-house courses – one for beginners – typically children ages 12 – 18, or adults who had absolutely no exposure to English, and the other program for intermediate speakers who have some basic knowledge but need to be more proficient and confident.
Prior to COVID, the beginner course was largely classroom based – taught in blind and special school settings? After COVID set in (from March on) the team scrambled to find alternatives to teach the beginners course virtually.
We’re happy to report that the first virtual all-India pilot got off the ground around 6 weeks ago and is progressing very well. We currently have 13 blind students from different parts of India (many from Telangana) ages 13 – 20 joining classes virtually each week (3 classes a week). The team has adapted the in-class model to a virtual model very successfully and is finding that despite some initial teething trouble with connectivity and audio issues, etc., the class has now reached a stable steady state and the students are making excellent progress.
The team includes Ms. Suja Albert and Mr. Akash from Hyderabad who developed the curriculum and materials, Ms. Loubaiana from Boston who volunteers with QA and reviews, Ms. Sarah and Mr. Justin (a blind instructor from Bangalore) assisted by Ms. Pooja Harish a Teaching Assistant Intern from Bangalore . The team is finding that the students are very receptive to the new learning mode.
For Vision-Aid developing a new virtual model for teaching English to the blind has been a silver lining in the COVID cloud. Once we get past this first pilot, a second pilot is already lined up with students waiting. Surely this will go on beyond COVID to become an important part of our portfolio.
Mr. V.L.Narasimhan who heads the Vision-Aid India operations as member secretary reported “I am delighted to see classes with record attendance of over 95% from the students with a continuous sense of enthusiasm to learn the subject. I am sure that upon completion of the Program, students will emerge much more confident in interacting with all concerned in their communication.
Ms. Jayanthi, Senior Program Manager overseeing all virtual programs reports “Internet connectivity issues are there. Still the kids don’t get disheartened and continue to participate in the class with all enthusiasm. This aspect is what motivates all of us to give our best to them”