Visually-impaired students across Georgetown will now have access to education which is specifically designed for them with the opening of the Ministry of Education’s Visually Impaired Resource Unit.
At the opening ceremony yesterday, Principal Education Officer Baydewan Rambarran said that its presence is yet “another step in the continuum of [our] mandate to provide education, especially special education for our nation’s children.” He added that the establishment of the unit was just a “small part of an overall vision” and he revealed that the ministry hopes to establish more locations across the country which caters to children with disabilities.
The unit, which was officially opened yesterday by Minister of Education Priya Manickchand, is located at 144 Albert Street, Alberttown. It has, however, been functioning for quite some time and has been catering to students who would have transferred from the David Rose Special School. The special needs programme was first established with the opening of the David Rose school in the 70s and it has helped those with disabilities acquire an education.
Speaking to students of the unit and members involved in the project at the ceremony, Rambarran said that the unit will enable the visually impaired students to “achieve a higher level of proficiency and self-sufficiency.” According to Chairperson Evelyn Hamilton, like the students from the Guyana Society for the Blind, these students will also have access to computers equipped with the programme JAWS (Job Access With Speech), which is an interactive learning programme designed to aid visually impaired computer users. Hamilton also said that the students of the unit will be catered to individually by teachers specially trained to facilitate their education. For students with limited use of their vision, learning materials will be available in large print and for those who are blind, learning materials will be available in braille or in audio versions.
Veteran journalist Julie Lewis, who spoke at the commissioning ceremony, is a product of the education system geared towards those who are visually impaired. In her brief talk, Lewis said that she hoped to inspire all the children of the unit and hoped that they will be encouraged to make their best of their situation. Lewis, who is visually impaired, was among the first blind students to graduate from the David Rose School. She said that she was also the first totally blind person in Guyana to write A-levels and the first blind person to obtain a degree from the University of Guyana. She believes that her achievements as an individual are proof that being visually impaired does not mean that one cannot be successful in life.
Meanwhile, in her address, Minister Manickchand emphasised that the time to cater to the minority is now, as a nation is only as strong as its weakest link. “Education is the surest way of changing circumstances,” she said. “It is the surest way of changing the human condition for the better.” She further proclaimed that “it would be a dereliction of duty if we did not look at the areas that were unseen.”
Manickchand also stated that under the present government, the entire education sector has drastically improved.
According to her, when the present government came into power, it found “a broken country, dilapidated education system and buildings in a state of disrepair.” She also asserted that the sector has grown and overcome those odds as the school systems are functioning well enough for the ministry to undertake the development of a special needs school. She noted that once there were only 30% trained teachers and now the amount of trained teachers surpasses 70%.