Kaieteur News – The Ministry of Education’s Unit for the Blind and Visually Impaired hosted the inaugural National Blind Education Conference on Tuesday, at the National Library, Georgetown. The event was held in collaboration with the Guyana Council of Organisations for Persons with Disabilities (GCOPD).
The conference focused on the current approach to blind education and developing new directions for the future.
Delivering the keynote address, Chief Education Officer (CEO), Dr. Marcel Hutson said the Ministry has developed a special needs policy, which ties into the Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2021-2025-Vision 2030 and addresses the needs of the blind and visually impaired.
The policy, he noted was developed in recognition of the specific educational needs of persons living with disabilities, including the blind and visually impaired.
The CEO noted that regardless of location and other factors, resources will be made available for persons to access education. “Every person is born gifted and I believe that, every person, regardless of your circumstances, regardless of what impediment might be in your way. Regardless of whatever, does not negate the fact that, as a human being, you’re born and gifted.”
He reaffirmed the Ministry’s commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goal Four, which speaks to inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The CEO also made reference to the establishment of various schools which cater to persons living with disabilities, while noting the need for a collective approach to tackling challenges which those persons encounter.
“Collectively, we could be impactful and so we look forward, as a ministry, for the reports that will come out of the conference… those reports might be able to subsume into our strategic plan so that it may add value to what we do as we go forward.
Further, “The Government of Guyana will be, in 2023, screening every child in our school system, nursery, primary, and secondary for visual problems… The eyes of the children will be tested and they will receive tested lens,” Dr. Hutson disclosed.
The report will then be provided to the parents or guardians.
Meanwhile, the National Special Education Needs Officer, Savvie Hopkinson-Hamilton noted that children living with disabilities, whether it is visual impairment, or blindness, need to be nurtured through instruction to develop their intellectual capabilities.
She pointed out that educating the visually impaired or blind is filled with challenges, which include architectural barriers, negative public attitudes, inadequate materials and equipment, and the cost of education, which must be met to allow for the students to acquire quality education.
Hopkinson-Hamilton believes that visually impaired and blind students need a sense of integration in the education system and to be provided with the materials to enable them to cope with academic activities.
Visually impaired teachers, at the Ministry of Education’s Unit for the Blind and Visually Impaired, who attended the conference, noted that is a good starting point for improving access to education for the blind.
Teacher Rosemary Ramitt says the Unit will definitely continue to do their part to ensure the goals are met.
“We will work to develop a list of recommendations that will be published and that we will use as a guide to assess the Ministry of Education’s work because we want to ensure that the recommendations that are made are addressed.”
Asif Khan, another teacher from the Unit believes a holistic approach is needed at this time.
“The major outcomes will definitely be: what is the way forward? Addressing the issue of blind education holistically, of course at a national level, how is it we get blind students to be more independent in the sense of being able to ascertain a job after matriculating. How do we reach to the stage […] in terms of a full education?” she asked.
Ackila Smith, a past student at the institute and advocate for persons with disabilities said she hopes that the conference would provide the springboard to address the many challenges she faced when she attended the school. Among the challenges highlighted is safety and security to and from the Guyana Society for the Blind located at High Street within the St. Phillip’s Green, in Georgetown.