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FROM MY HEART: Should Blind Students Learn At Schools With Sighted Ones?
By Dang Hoai Phuc
For many years, most people in Vietnam who care about blindness have said that the blind should go to schools for the sighted. They assume that this is a good way to make the blind and the sighted integrate and understand each other.
seems to be their well-intentioned belief that by going to school with the
sighted, the blind can easily erase stereotype inferiority complexes and learn
better how to live on their own in a sighted world. These well-intentioned,
sighted and blind people believe that in this way they can eliminate the social
distance between the blind and the sighted.
this is still in an open and a large question that needs more exposure and
discussion. What is the best way
for the blind, who have different educational needs than the sighted, to get the
best results from school and also integrate with the sighted in a way to allow
the blind to achieve the best possible jobs and employment in the sighted world?
is at the start a need for the blind to overcome disadvantages when going to
school with the sighted, such as transportation, teaching materials and lesson
comprehension. We must first assess
the challenges the blind face when compared to the sighted.
We must understand how the simple act of going to school and returning
home, even if it just means crossing a busy Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City street, is
not a simple task. Without sighted
assistance, for a blind student needing to travel greater distances than just
crossing a street can become an hour-long chore filled with apprehension and
danger. In this simple comparison,
the blind will always come up short when measured against the sighted.
Most sighted students in high school and beyond go to and from school by their own vehicles such as bicycle and motorbike. While some sighted students have the use of public transportation, a blind student depends on a family member, a neighbor, or public transportation. Particularly when there is no family member or friendly neighbor with time to spare, the blind face yet another serious problem: the need for money to travel by bus, mini-bus, or taxi-motorbike. The study of the transportation needs of just one blind student can be instructional. It is typical of all bind students.
The young blind man for this report is a student at the college of Social Science in Ho Chi Minh City. The trip from his home to school is several kilometers long. The cost for the return trip each day by public transportation is nearly twenty thousand VND (US$1.38). This amount of money, over the course a full year, approaches the total sum of an average Vietnamese worker’s annual income. It is also far more money than then this student has or his family could raise. Unable to go on his own to class, the blind university student is compelled to ask his friends to take him.
would not be necessary if the schools of Vietnam were especially designed for
the blind and not the sighted. However,
under the current system, a blind student must either impose upon his friends or
give-up his university education. Consider
as well those blind students who are not as lucky as this one young man.
Consider those who do not have transportation money or friends to take
them to school, and return them home every day?
course the blind have a daily effort to go anywhere in the sighted world, such
as walking on crowded and cratered sidewalks filled with people, tables, stools,
and vending carts, or the challenge in finding the correct bus, hailing a
motorbike taxi, or dealing with the crooked driver who takes more money than he
should, wrongly thinking the blind are unaware of the correct fare or the value
of the bills as well. However, as
this is taken for the moment as normal in the sighted world, addressed here are
only the considerations of study by the blind.
are some advantages gained from the transportation experience of the Social
Science student reported on here. He is able to meet and speak often with his
sighted friends who drive him. As a result, they get to know each other quite
well. Some of them have even become
very close friends. Therefore while the transportation of blind students is a
problem making the blind dependent upon the sighted, it does provide a chance
for interaction and friendship. The question up for consideration is if the possibility of
expanded friendship is worth the cost of making the blind more dependent on the
sighted and not more independent?
in some ways to the challenges faced in transportation problems, the issue of
materials for the blind is yet an even larger challenge to overcome. The need
for Braille materials is not currently met in sighted schools.
In Vietnam, there are no books transcribed in Braille for the blind who
want to study beyond the 10th grade level. Students who wish to
graduate high school and university must ask the sighted to read all of their
textbooks and all of their daily lessons, every day of the school year.
The blind must listen carefully and using their writing-boards or (for
the fortunate few) a computer, then transcribe the lessons either directly into
Braille or first into an electronic format and later Braille.
Another method available for the blind in some Vietnamese subjects such
as literature, psychology, and economics, is for the sighted to read and record
the texts and daily lessons onto audiotapes.
is very helpful as the blind can then learn by listening to their cassette
players. However, this is not possible in more complex courses such as math,
chemistry, physics and some science subjects. And if the blind cannot find a student willing to take the
extra time to record or read the daily lessons, this is also then not possible.
Now consider the sighted. With many bookshops and libraries all over the major and even smaller cities throughout Vietnam in which they can find very easily any material they want, the sighted can read for free and buy the books they need to concentrate on. Then, on their own and at any time they desire, the sighted can read and study as time permits.
is yet another factor to be considered. All
students have a limited amount of time in which to read and prepare their
lessons. The time for all students to prepare a lesson is very short, rarely
more than a day or two. In a school
for the sighted, the blind are not given extra time to prepare their lessons,
even if they were to ask for it. It
is a certainty that the blind do need extra time.
There is no extra time given to the blind for the lengthy and difficult process of transcribing a lesson into Braille. If a blind student has a very good helper, the sighted helper will arrange his or her schedule to allow the two to meet on a regular time each day. After school, while some sighted students play, the blind must listen to their lessons and the day’s school notes being read to them by friends, and then listen to the lessons a second time on tape. Transcribing both texts and lessons into Braille is a daily event.
the blind student does not have a good, regular reader or tape from a prior
class, he must hire sighted persons able to type Braille to transcribe printed
material into Braille. This is a very costly process. The price for an
English-Vietnamese dictionary with 100,000 words transcribed in Braille costs
more than one million dong (US$ 69.00) while a printed dictionary is one
twentieth the cost or about 50,000 VND (US$ 3.45). The near absence of proper
materials, and the high cost for the materials that are available for blind
students is one of the biggest challenges that all blind students must face.
For those students above grade 10, that challenge alone has prevented
many blind people from gaining a higher education in Vietnam.
comprehension is the greatest and most important challenge that blind students
face when attending schools with the sighted. Even if a blind student has
readily available transportation and is able to possess all the necessary
materials for a class, understanding concepts, ideas, and thoughts expressed by
the sighted can be a formidable task for the young and relatively inexperienced
blind student. It’s not very easy for older students, either.
This challenge to the blind is not often or well understood, and less
frequently fully appreciated, by many sighted educators.
A sighted student uses his ears, eyes, and hands both to touch and write
when learning school lessons. Today
even the poorest schools use audio-visual methods for teaching lessons.
simultaneously use pictures to illustrate and words to explain some issues of a
lesson. For instance, a teacher who wants to show his students the nations of
Asia may use a map of different colors and shapes, as well as the names of the
nations printed on map. The teacher
may show the students flags of each nation with outlines of their various
designs and than have the students color in the national colors and print the
name of each country below the flag. Another teacher who wants to help his students learn about
the natural resources of the nation, or even his own province, can draw on a
black or white board using colors and shapes.
a lesson could sound like this to a blind student.
"The area colored in brown that I’m pointing to is a forested area
has a good potential for harvesting wood. The area in green is strong in
agriculture, while the area in gray has many stone quarries. The triangles you
see on and off the land are the areas that have petroleum production or a good
potential for that. Each major city is marked with a large circle, with the
smaller circles showing the smaller cities.
Hanoi, our nation’s capital, is marked with a star.”
blind student who never had vision will be stuck at the start trying to imagine
what “brown” is. The
once-sighted student might be thrown off the mark wondering why a forest is
colored brown and not green as he still, vaguely remembers.
Neither student could possibly know from the lesson what areas were being
described, or how to find them on a map for the sighted.
The sighted will have drawings and pictures marked with the information
to study at home in order to complete the next lessons quiz, perhaps to name the
areas that produce wood, agricultural products, stone, and petroleum products,
and five of the nation’s leading city centers.
only method by which a blind student can learn is by hearing and touch.
A three-dimensional map with different textures and words printed in
Braille would give the same information to the blind as the sighted student
received in the prior example of a class lesson.
By attending classes for the sighted, the blind student is compelled to
study at home with a sighted tutor, either a friend helping for free or a paid
assistant, and go over the subject matter in much less dramatic manner.
Not to ever be forgotten is that factor of time as well.
The wonder is that blind students can graduate from sighted classes and schools. However, the challenge of learning becomes a wall without doors for the blind to open when the blind try to advance their experiences beyond school and compete successfully with the sighted in finding jobs.
schools with sighted students may be helpful in overcoming a stereotyped image
of the bind as helpless musicians, masseuses, or basket weavers.
Social interaction may build friendships and help integrate the sighted
to understand the challenges of the blind, but is this really the best way to
equip blind students with information and skills necessary to win a job?
Surely some blind students have succeeded, but have you considered how
many more could have but failed only because of the current system of education?
believe the best way to help the blind develop to the fullest extent of their
many abilities is for them to attend schools for the blind that are equipped to
attend to the special needs of the blind. Challenges such as transportation, materials, and lesson
comprehension can then be faced and overcome.
For transportation, blind high school and university students could have
hostels near the school if not on the school grounds.
An acceptable alternative can be free door-to-door bus transportation.
However, for social as well as educational reasons, I believe a boarding
school environment is best for the blind. In a boarding situation, the blind can
share with each other the lessons as do the sighted, and resolve every day
confusions that often clear up with the benefit of group discussion about shared
experiences. The use of a
centralized store of needed learning and teaching tools, such as a Braille
library with tapes and texts, audio labs, and computer facilities, will
eliminate the current shortage and for higher learning, a complete absence of
proper learning materials. The
students can then as a group focus on what materials are needed and necessary,
and produce the Braille that they specifically need.
most important improvement from a blind-only education system will be realized
in lesson comprehension. Methods chosen to teach blind students are very
different from methods to teach sighted ones. Blind students cannot uniformly
reach their highest level of achievement unless they are separated from the
sighted. Perhaps in postgraduate
studies the blind student doctor, lawyer, economist, physicist and chemist can
join with the sighted if only for economy in scale.
But until they reach that level of higher study, blind students attending
schools for the blind where they can help each other and grow undependably and
strong is the best way to proceed.
the blind with the sighted at school from the start is not helpful to the blind
or the sighted. Seldom do the bind
and sighted communicate with each other, except for the few helpers to the
blind. When we consider better
methods of encouraging the blind and sighted to be more comfortable with each
other, let’s not forget this information age where the many forms of media
such as television, newspapers, magazines, and even Internet chat rooms can
expose the blind and sighted to each other. And more over, we can organize clubs
for activities in which the blind and the sighted join together for social
activities such as playing chess, reading, and discussing literature, listening
to music, and playing sports. It may surprise some sighted students to learn that the blind
can swim and even play many forms of ball sports.
out of school social activities will help to eliminate social distance between
the blind and the sighted. It will help to integrate them more than by
compelling the blind to attend schools with the sighted.
School must be for studying and learning first.
Social actives at school are also important, but the schools should
concentrate in their academic roles first.
As most school social actives are as unsuited for the blind as are the
classrooms, this should not be a difficult concept to understand.
And even if the blind were encouraged to join in after school activities
with the sighted, few if any would have the time.
No, for the blind attending a sighted school, there are no meaningful
activities except the ones relating to study.
some who read this essay may not know me, it important at this point that I
mention that am blind and have been blind for ten of my nineteen years. I am one
of the few lucky blind students who, with out having proper materials, was yet
able to graduate high school. I am now completing my second year of university
study. This fact may help you to
better understand my point of view: that
blind students should go to schools for the blind that are supported by the
education system to fully meet the needs of the blind as the very best way for
the blind to get the most from our education and thus be better equipped with
suitable knowledge for our careers and our lives.
If you are in a position to help the blind as an academic, political, or
social leader, and if you have a better idea, please share it with me.
Dang Hoai Phuc was blinded by an exploding bomb he unwittingly uncovered while working the small fields of his father's modest half hectare farm in BaRia-VungTau Province, Vietnam. Only nine years old at the time, Phuc spent the next year recovering from his wounds that left his face and much of his upper torso pock marked with black gun powder and blue-green remnants of the metal casing. In addition to blinding young Phuc, it tore apart his small pinky finger of his left hand, and took chunks of flesh from his chest and thighs.
Two years later, three years following the explosion, 12 year old Phuc entered the Bung Sang School for the blind where his life began. While his former friends and neighbors still toil their small fields and none have gone much beyond the 4th grade in school, at 19 Phuc is completing his second year of university, is fully fluent in French and English, studies Japanese, plays Chopin on the piano with such emotion as to make the strongest among us weep, and scores and plays his own original music for guitar and piano.
The blind and sighted can learn more about Phuc and the Bung Sang School for the Blind by visiting their own page on this server.
Those interested in corresponding with Phuc can write to him here.
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