A few of the students in an after-class study group
Anxious and a bit nervous but confident are just some of the words that can be used to describe students of the Guyana Society for the Blind, (GSB) who are preparing to write the upcoming Caribbean Secondary Education Council, (CSEC) examinations.
To be honest, I did not know what to expect, as I sat down to chat with the group of visually impaired students, the first batch to take on the task of publicly displaying their intellectual capabilities by entering to write the exams.
But I was pleasantly surprised at their frankness, and humility as the students spoke of the journey they have undergone in training in computer use, and other subject areas preparing for the exams.
They explained that most of the learning exercises are conducted via specifically configured software designed to assist visually impaired persons. This software allows the computer to voice everything that appears on the screen, so that audio skills play a great part in the scheme of things. The students said that technology helps to make the work easier.
While most of the students are fairly older, they behave like regular teenagers attending secondary school, teasing each other, laughing and talking amongst their classmates.
The visually impaired pupils spoke of their challenges and what they hope to achieve as the first batch of students, being afforded the opportunity to participate in an examination with persons without any visual impairments.
“For me it is not an intellectual contest, of course I want to gain a proper education, but my overall achievement would be helping to remove the stigma, discrimination, and ignorance in our society, where there is a tendency to correlate persons with disabilities as being void and unable to cope, because I believe if people are better sensitized and educated on this particular subject, we will be able to pave a better path for other persons with disabilities, so that society wouldn’t limit persons to their disabilities,” Rosemary Ramitt said.
Rosemary has been attending the institute for almost three years. She had her sight for the first thirteen years of her life, until she was diagnosed with an eye disorder called Uveitis. The disease, which is basically inflammation of the eyes, caused her to become visually impaired.
“I see a little but only colours really vague … but I can type really well and I study hard, so I feel prepared to sit the exams, those who can’t type that good usually get a scribe to read and write for them as they provide the answers to the question. We also get an extra fifteen minutes to every hour, in the examination room so there are considerations for us…I will be writing five subjects in June, which is the maximum for us.”
Rosemary said that she noted that she is never one to shy away from a challenge.
“My favourite subject is Human and Social Biology. I attended the Annandale Secondary School before I became visually impaired. However, my future aspiration is to become a teacher and therefore my plan is to enter the Cyril Potter College of Education, upon successfully completing my exams.
Odessa Blair is also a student at the GSB. Blair became blind five years ago, as a result of an illness she suffered and has been attending CSEC classes there at least four times a week.
“I used to work as a sales clerk at Stabroek Market before I became blind… I wrote CSEC before but remember the knowledge I had as a seeing person is not the same. I cannot use the same method of application and therefore I opted to rewrite the exams,” Blair said. She hopes to further her studies after the exams.
Visually impaired, Vishal Mohabir talked about the challenge of adapting his lifestyle after his eyes were damaged. A former student of St. Roses High School, Mohabir hopes to attend the University of Guyana, once he completes his examinations.
“Workshops, training and attending classes here, have contributed a great deal to helping me adapt, I find it a bit easier being among persons with similar disabilities, because we are able to support each other because we understand what the other person is going through.”
His colleague, Musa Haynes, was a bit shy, but briefly said that he plans on using his skills to provide counseling services to persons, affected by HIV/AIDS.
However, the student noted that it’s not all smooth sailing, at the institution as he cited a few challenges such as the need for proper furniture for students and adequate classroom accommodation, as well as security for the premises.
Public Relations Officer for the Council of the Organization of People with Disability and tutor at the institute, Ganesh Singh, noted that the CSEC programme for persons with disabilities was initiated to promote the education and intellectual development of persons, who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise physically challenged.
“The idea is to help promote the intellectual capability of persons who are visually impaired or disabled in some way or the other, because what we have been experiencing is society overlooking persons with disabilities, forgetting or not realizing that having a shortcoming in one area, does not mean that you cannot function in the others; being blind does not mean that you are not academically inclined or cannot be educated.”
Singh says that while the need for an inclusive education system in which persons with disabilities can amply function has been heralded, the Guyana Society for the Blind, (GSB), is the first organization for physically challenged persons, to take on such an initiative.
He said that for the first time, since its establishment in 1955, students will be able to take part in the examination, via the institute.
“The programme is the brainchild of officials of the Guyana Society for the Blind in collaboration with the Ministry of Education; the chief initiators being myself, Mr. Cecil Morris, President of the Guyana Society for the Blind and Ms. Theresa Pemberton, our Administrative Volunteer. We are grateful to the Ministry of Education, which has supported us by sending part time tutors and for their immediate response to our initiative. We are also thankful for the One Laptop Per Family project, which afforded the school the computer equipment the students currently utilize for the in house training.”
According to Singh, the Ministry of Education funds the payment of the teaching staff, as well as provides candidate fees for the students to write the examinations.
The programme started last year with academic classes being held at the Guyana Institute for the Blind. It entails in-house training and coaching a class of fifteen students, ten of whom are preparing to write CSEC exams in June.
The students are taught lessons in basically five subject areas, namely: English, Business, Office Administration, Social Studies and Human and Social Biology.
Classes are held at the Blind Institute on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The classes cater for mature students, 18 and upwards, travelling from as far as Farm, East Bank Essequibo (just off Parika) Diamond, East Bank Demerara, Enterprise and Plaisance on the East Coast Demerara and Georgetown.
Apart from the CSEC programme, the society also conducts literacy classes for the disabled on the premises.
The Guyana Society for the Blind is appealing to persons with disabilities who might have the potential and are desirous of being admitted to the CSEC and Literacy programmes to contact the President or Administrative Volunteer on telephone number: 226-4971 or persons visit the Guyana Society for the Blind at High Street (behind the former GBC Radio Station).