Education, a light in visually impaired people’s heart.

Education for visually impaired people is increasing in China. Does it helps for this group and how is it changing the attitude of people without visual impairment? 

Tong is walking around in the classroom and watching her students’ every movement. It was her third year working at blind school but she is still very alert all the time.

Bump their heads on the steps or hit their eyes on the desks, such accidents happen in Tong’s classroom almost on everyday in this three year. It was just an ordinary classroom, but for her visually impaired students, is plagued by crises. 

Tong Guan is a teacher in blind school and she is also a campaigner of education for the disabled students. Due to the size of the visually impaired population and the specificity of loss of sight, blind schools became the most important part of special education in China.

“I acquired too much moving moment in my classroom during three years because I saw my students pay more than peers, but I also witnessed too much strike they receive when they leave school, a place just create a dream of equality and love,” Tong said with a little helpless.

In China, there are more than 500 blind schools. It formed a fixed lesson style in blind school that learning massage techniques and music but not like ordinary students to learn cultural knowledge. Only a few blind schools provide the same textbooks as ordinary school, that leads to some visually impairments have to leave home and go far away if they want to learn like ordinary peers.

The history of blind school can be traced about 100 years ago in China and it played a vital role on the historical stage. However, in recent years, consider more and more students are eager to receive acknowledge, some researcher like Tong raised a concept called inclusive education, which means that the disabled people can also go to ordinary school and have classes with able-bodied students. 

Writing braille should use a special ruler and a sharp pen.

According to Tong, she began to consider inclusive education issues because of a boy from her class. When she was teaching the fourth graders in blind school, most of the children in her class were used to the sight of blindness and they were stronger than their peers and seldom cried. It’s just that time she was talking to a boy and it made her realize how vulnerable they are and it is time to help them integrate into mainstream education.

The little boy said, his father thrown him away when he was a child, but his grandparents brought him home from the dustbin and raised him. Every time, when he go back to home for school holidays, his younger sister bullied him with other children in the village, so he doesn’t go out when he comes home.

The boy’s words made Tong realize that  put visually impaired students in blind school and is not good for their growth and it just like a process and the society margined them gradually.

Tong said, “I can understand the boy’s sister, after all, she is influenced by her father, but more important is, in her school, she never get in touch with disabled students. Sometimes, special school seems like a wall that prevents the world outside for them.”

As a special education teacher, she realizes the mainstream world is still too far away from visually impaired students. “It seems like they can only go to certain environment-friendly places, only have the opportunity to make friends with certain people, can only take certain universities, and do certain jobs in the feature,” Tong said, “They were stuck in the ‘wall’ and ignorant of the world behind them and lack of courage and ways to climb up. Inclusive education provides a ladder to climb over the wall for the disabled students and make them closer to the mainstream. If others read with eyes, visually impaired students may touch a book with his hand; if other students jump high, he or she can try to walk on his own.”

According to data from official education website, there are more than 2000 special schools in China by 2018, and it still on the rise. At the same time, sending disabled students to ordinary schools is in process and the data shows that disabled students who receive education with able-bodied students even exceed students go to special school.

However, the real situation of inclusive education is not like official statistics shows. A nongovernmental charity “One Foundation” made a survey of enrollment status for school-age children with disabilities around the China in 2017. They collected almost 100,000 questionnaires from parents of disabled children, compared with official data, some results are startling. There are only 45% school-age respondents receive education in ordinary school, and 28% of respondents are directly rejected by ordinary school for different reasons. There are still 3% respondents get admission to go to ordinary school but required to drop out. The number of students who receive inclusive education in China is far less than those with special education.

There is another voice about education issue for visually impaired students. Wenhui Wang  is a blind school teacher and he is a visually impairment himself. He said, “there is still a long way to go for inclusive education for students with disabilities in China, especially for visually impaired students.”

He believes that inclusive education might be achieved in one day but it’s not now in China. Wenhui said, “I saw some visually impaired students who is excelling in blind school are sent to ordinary school. However, some are sent back, others are even suspend their studies due to some psychological problems. It’s inevitable to meet some discrimination and bully for them.” 

He added, “The government promotes inclusive education, but the truth is in ordinary school, visually impaired students will not be provided extra braille exercises except for text books. At self-study courses, they can do nothing.” 

However, due to the lack of braille books, in some blind schools, AI speakers have become second teacher for visually impaired people. The blind students just say to smart speaker “Read a story for me” and it to a large extent enrich children’s life. Teachers will give a fixed time and let blind students to listen some stories. 

In addition, many blind schools including Wenhui’s school realize what computers mean for visually impaired people today and offer longer time on training it. It’s common in blind school that partially sighted students lead the way for totally blind students. They offers longer and more frequent psychological curriculums for their students. In Whenhui’s opinion, these rights are hard to guaranteed in ordinary school.

He said, people always focus on the educational standards gap between ordinary school and special school but ignore a more important skill—how to live by visually impaired students themselves. In his blind school, they will teach students how to find directions using their tactile cane. He said, “It’s still not enough. Our school is not in Beijing or Shanghai, there is a big gap among different blind schools in different cities. We don’t have fund to set up more life skills courses and we don’t have enough teachers to lead students  to go to bus station and let them practice.” In his opinion, it’s better to make sure the perfection of special schools than focus on so called inclusive education.

Behind the inclusive education for people with disabilities, who is really need to be educated? 

Rongquan Zheng is one of the first students who using braille papers attend Gaokao, however, when he walked in his dreamed university, a sound alway around him. He said, his arrival made his teacher feel nervous. That is what his teacher told him when he graduated: “When I find you are my student, I couldn’t enjoy my holiday before the new semester, I never taught visually impaired students before and I don’t know how to get along with you and what kind of support I can give. What I thought at that time is to be ready to receive a ‘plague’ and come along it with for four years. However, after I know you and this visually impaired group, I found there is no difference.”

Rongquan is learning in Weizhou university.

He said, his teacher could represent the most of Chinese citizens. Because of the lack of attention to this group so that cause some misunderstandings, prejudice and even discrimination. Society is developing so fast, today, everyone is eager to be best in the crowd. How many people are willing to stop and try to talk to different individuals.

As a visually impaired teacher, Wenhui alway told to him students, we are the minority group and we can not require everyone understand us. What we can do is to do our best and ready to be acknowledged by the public. Either the inclusive education or special education, it builds a bridge for people with disabilities to chase a new life.