Over the past 20 years, we established or improved 10 national education programs for children with blindness or visual impairment, trained more than 55 teachers to work with the children and facilitated the graduation of more than 450 children from our partner inclusive education programs.
FROM SPECIAL SCHOOLS TO MAINSTREAMING
THE CARIBBEAN EXPERIENCE
Arvel Grant, Executive Director, Caribbean Council for the Blind
Context: Caribbean area
Countries: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Commonwealth of The Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines & Trinidad & Tobago.
Population: approx 12.9M
Languages: English, and French
CCB: Established in 1967 by Sir John Wilson (RCSB)
Supported by Sight Savers International since 1967
Key programme areas: eye care, education, CBR (Adjustment to Blindness) advocacy and RM
1. How did we achieve inclusive education, (integrated education or mainstreaming)?
Between the late 50s and the late 70s there were three (3) institutions which provided education for children with blindness or visual impairment:
- The Salvation Army operated school in Commonwealth of the Bahamas
- Another Salvation Army operated school in Kingston Jamaica
- A state funded school for blind children in Trinidad & Tobago
Both the Jamaica and Trinidad schools encouraged selective integration of children who were seen to be intellectually advanced. (The intention – to help advance the image of the “Mother school” while giving the students a shot at a “normal” education).
In 1978, CCB developed and printed a ten-year program plan, which included strong a focus on the establishment of national education programs for children with blindness and VI in all countries in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Based on that programming guide, the CCB begun a sustained program of advocacy with Ministries of Education across the Region, to have Governments establish unit classes or resource rooms to support children who were blind or VI, attending mainstreamed schools.
Guyana became the first target: A generic teacher, Mrs. Daphne Franklin was sent (with sponsorship of CCB&RCSB) to Birmingham to be prepared to start an education program for children with blindness in Guyana. Ms Franklin returned and was employed by the MOE who also provided physical space at the St. Roses School, where a resource room was established.
By the mid-80s similar programs were established in Belize, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Because of the lack of trained teachers of the VI, the CCB embarked on a twin-track initiative:
Starting in the mid eighties the Council (with financial assistance from RCSB and much technical assistance from HKI, Perkins School and CNIB, implemented a series of summer courses, to which all teachers working with children who are blind or VI were invited.
Track 2 featured a sustained program of advocacy targeting The MICO Teachers College, Jamaica, the University of the West Indies and National MOEs, pushing for the establishment of a regional training program for teachers of children with visual impairment.
By 1987, after more than 4 years of sustained advocacy, the “dam broke”.
CCB, HKI & RCSB partnered to scholarship Celene Gyles to read for a Masters in Special Education at Columbia University, NY.
Celene performed as advertised and returned to start the regional course in 1988.
To date the course has trained and graduated more than fifty five teachers at a 2-year post basic diploma level.
The program is now evolving to offer first degree and post graduate options
Excepting in the case of Guyana, the brain drain has not affected the development of the national programs significantly.
By the early nineties, CCB and RCSB partnered to role out the regional Braille and large print service (Branded as Cable Print).
After 5 years of facilitating training of Braille & Large Print workers for national programs, CCB has handed over specialized production of material to various national entities:
In order to eleminate the long-standing problem of broken or malfunctioning equipment; CCB established and still maintains, a regional Maintenance Program, for specialized educational equipment and systems.