Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Education for visually impaired children

There are about 600,000 people with visual impairments in Vietnam, and 20,000 of them are children, according to a 2005 Central Eyes Hospital report.

The need to support these children's education and social integration was the question at hand at a seminar held by the Viet Nam Association for the Blind and the Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired (SRF) earlier this month in Hanoi.

Dao Soat, chairman of the Viet Nam Association for the Blind, believes that the key to preventing the social alienation of children with visual impairments is to make it possible for them to participate in the main-stream education system.

"If they go to school at a suitable age, visually impaired children develop the ability to integrate into the larger society," he said.

Limited awareness of State policies regarding disabled and visually impaired children has led to the small numbers of visually impaired children studying in schools.

Many schools refuse to accept these children, and those accepted to normal schools generally do not receive exams and grades, so they study mainly as observers.

As a result of this discriminatory treatment, visually impaired children tend to drop out of school or apply for special training schools.

These children's educations also suffer from a lack of materials such as Braille books, plus the majority of teachers do not know Braille.

A recent report by the Department for Special Training under Ha Noi Pedagogical University shows that since the introduction of education for teaching visually impaired students in 1999, only 23 graduates have completed the full certification course.

"There are no support policies for teachers majoring in teaching children with disabilities. They do not receive any special benefits so those studying to be teachers tend not to choose this major," said Hoang Thi Nho from the university's Department for Special Training.

Ha Tay, the province bordering Hanoi, has around 500 children under 15 with visual impairments. According to Nguyen Van Minh, director of the Ha Tay Commission for Ideology and Culture, many of those children either live in low-income, remote areas or have been sheltered and pampered by their wealthy parents, instead of integrating into mainstream society.

Minh says the high cost of educating children with visual disabilities has been a major hurdle.
"It costs about VND100-200,000 to purchase a set of books for an ordinary child, but books for visually impaired students cost VND2-3mil," Minh said.

"The budget is limited and most of them come from poor families so they can only attend school when we raise fund from sponsors. That's why some are much older than their classmates."
There are around 40 students attending classes at schools both in and outside the province, thanks to domestic and foreign sponsors.

Deputy Minister of Training and Education Dang Huynh Mai said that at present, there are more than 30 students with visual impairments attending courses at colleges and universities.
The ministry has approved the establishment of six special training faculties in colleges and universities.

In addition, the Institute of Education Strategy and Programme, under the Ministry of Education and Training, has co-operated with Nguyen Dinh Chieu, the School for Visually Impaired Children, to build the Vietnamese Braille Symbolic System.

As the first guide for Vietnamese people with visual impairments, the system still requires continual adjustment.

Many provincial representatives assert that for students with visual impairments, Government funds are necessary to support the teaching of Braille and the printing of books in Braille to allow these children to enter ordinary schools, with the same rights as other students.


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