Saturday, February 18, 2017

Inclusive curriculum is key to the success of inclusive education

Photo of blind children reading braille books. Image courtesy: Muenselling Institute's website

We have been lately talking about inclusive education in Bhutan and some of the schools have already been modified to accommodate children with varying abilities in the same learning environment. But no matter how accessible the general infrastructures of the school might be, or how well trained are the teachers dealing with students with special needs, I think the goal of inclusive education cannot be achieved if the school curriculum is not inclusive. When we talk about inclusive education, people mostly think about only accessible physical infrastructures within the school campus and disabled-friendly facilities and services. But we have never thought of the curriculum which is the backbone of formal education system in the country. I feel that our school curriculum is very rigid at the moment. We are expected to learn what is prescribed in the textbooks and not what we are good at or what we love doing. When the curriculum is developed, the needs of persons with disabilities especially the visually impaired children are never considered. As a result, the curriculum is largely visual-based and hence, the visually impaired children are deprived of the opportunity to participate equally in the classroom.

We don’t want a special curriculum for persons with visual impairment either because that would defeat the very purpose of inclusive education. If we are to achieve universal access to education, the curriculum must be made inclusive so that even the children with special education needs can comfortably attend the classes like others. Today, most of the concepts are illustrated with diagrams and although children with sight can easily get them, it becomes difficult for someone without sight to figure out what they are. If any illustration is followed by an alternative explanation, it might help the visually impaired children get the mental picture of what is being illustrated. Since the visually impaired children can’t see the diagrams and graphics, it is the responsibility of the teacher to help them develop the correct mental picture of what is being taught. To make it better, I think the textbooks should only have diagrams and graphical representations when the concepts can’t be explained in words.

Due to the excessive use of diagrams and graphics, Mathematics and Science have always been the most complicated subjects for visually impaired children. It is extremely difficult for the visually impaired children to solve complex Mathematical or Science problems because they are mostly visual-based. Over the past forty-four years since Muenselling Institute was established, only a few visually impaired students have passed in Mathematics in the board exams for class 10 and since the subject is optional in the higher secondary school, nobody has ever taken it. Science is another complicated subject for visually impaired students since it largely involves visual learning. For instance, it is absolutely impossible for the visually impaired children to take part in the laboratory tests and experiments. Even during the exams, questions containing diagrams and graphics pose a great challenge to visually impaired children. Although the marks for such questions are deducted from the total marks during the evaluation, it is still not fair because they don’t get the opportunity to attend all the given questions. So I feel even while preparing the question-papers, they should think of visually impaired children and minimize the use of diagrams and graphics in the questions so that everyone can attempt the paper.

In the light of afore-mentioned challenges, I think it’s high time that we review our curriculum and explore ways to include the needs of visually impaired children so that they won’t be left out as they reach higher grades. I am just wondering if Mathematics and Science could be made optional from class 9 so that the visually impaired children will have the option to focus their energy on the subjects they love. As of now, the visually impaired children are forced to spend more time on these two subjects and as a result, they don’t get enough time to focus on other subjects. After all, it is almost sure that Mathematics and Science cannot guarantee a promising future for visually impaired children because they can neither become an engineer nor a doctor. So I feel it would be better to give them the opportunity to concentrate on the subjects which they love and which they can learn. By class 8, they would have all the basics of Mathematics and Science which would be enough for them to understand and interact with the world around them. It won’t be fair to force something down their throat which they cannot digest. With time, I hope the concerned authorities would look into the matter and expand the learning opportunities for persons with disabilities in Bhutan. We all have the right to quality education and hence, the school curriculum must be able to cater to the needs of every citizen of this country.

Author's note

This was the outcome of the discussion we had among the visually impaired friends in a WeChat social forum sometime ago. It is amazing to know that every visually impaired person in Bhutan feels the same. So I have decided to put it on my blog.

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