Sunday, November 16, 2014

Report of the Namchi Blind School visit, November 2014

When I first visited Namchi Blind School in Janruay 2014, I expected to see a well funded, well endowed school. This is the only blind school in all of Sikkim, and Namchi is the constituency of the Chief Minister.

What I found, instead, was very different. I have written about it before. This time, however, I am very happy to report, the story was entirely different. The school has now got govt. funding and is back to being a “government school”. The principal very sweetly told me that they wont need any more clothes etc because now the govt pays for everything. I love that kind of honesty. In January, things were really bad, so this trip was quite a pleasant surprise.

Those of you who know me, also know how much I love road travel, and how important this school must be, for someone like me to undertake 7 hours on the road in a single day. Yes, it was worth it. :)  

We started by exchanging notes, and him telling me how much they had loved that audio content. (in January, audio content that could be heard using the computer was a very new idea for them. They had depended largely on braille)

The visit started with a review of the usage of the content we had contributed last time. I was very happy to hear that not only had the content been used, but also that the Principal, Mr. Jiwan Rai, had taken the trouble to translate into Nepali and share the content with the children who do not understand Hindi. I requested him to please record his translations next time. He has kindly consented. 

We also spoke to some students who have used the original content and took feedback on the content, the background noise, the pace of speech etc.

Next, we donated the things we had with us – a room heater, some warm clothes for the winter, and most importantly,  mp3 players with SD cards loaded. The Principal and I discussed the best way to use these mp3 players, and we decided to make these a part of the library, so that all students can use them by turns. One for the girls, and one for the boys. :)

The school was really happy to have this audio content. 8 representative students were also in the room. Together, we discussed what all was required, and about 6 GB of new content was shared with the school.

The students would like more quizzes, more GK, more stories to learn English, and Speed Maths was a big hit. We found it hard to stop the demo audio. :) We will be recording these.

I also heard about the integrated schooling program of the school. After class 5, the students are moved to an integrated school where they learn with other children. Braille literacy in the school appeared to be really good, and now the school also has a brailler.

Students can study upto Graduation in Namchi itself, and after that, it is Delhi. This integrated education program was really interesting and I spent some time talking to the 8 students(in a structured interview)  – 2 from Class 6, who had just joined integrated school this year, to 2 students in graduation first year, who will shortly be preparing for Delhi,  to understand how integrated schooling worked for them, the challenges they faced and what helped them overcome those challenges. The overwhleming input was that their friends, and the love of their teachers in the new school helped them cope with the challenges. I really feel that’s important. Where the new environment is welcoming and inclusive, it is always easy to find ways to meet the physical challenges of not being able to see the board , braille with the rest of the class, etc.

There is only one school, and the teachers of that school are ready to welcome the children. That makes a big difference. It was heartening to see that some of the kids, now in Class 9/10, did not even remember their challenge and said, “no big problem”, when I asked them about it. On further probing, they remembered “something”. I smiled a lot.

I also found neighborhood children playing in the yard of the school. The best thing was that everyone took everyone else for granted. The sighted did not look at the school children as if they were special, and the school children interacted pleasantly with their neighbors. There was no special treatment to anyone and by anyone. It felt lovely.

Catching up on what happened since we last met  - Utilisation and other updates.

Mp3 player familiarisation for the principal sir

Requirement gathering and hearing about integrated schooling

Student interaction on previous content, and other general catchup.

structured interviews on integrated schooling process and what makes it work.
After we had completed usage review, mp3 donation, and the student feedback sessions, it was time to head back. It was 4 30 in the evening, and we had a gruelling 3.5 hour drive ahead of us.

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