Chennai

COVID-19: Students with vision impairment shift to new platform

File photo of students being trained in computers. Photo: Special Arrangement

File photo of students being trained in computers. Photo: Special Arrangement  

During the lockdown, 200 undergraduate students from various Indian cities are picking up employability skills through an online initiative; Help the Blind Foundation framed the curriculum and runs the programme

It is a quarter past six in the evening, and A.R. Vasudha’s students are clutching their mobile phones. As the first lesson of the day, Vasudha plays them an audio clip from an English commercial and asks them to make a mental note of the unfamiliar words they come across. “Ma’am, can you repeat the clip?” a voice pipes up. This seems to be a trigger opening a flood-gate of similar requests from other students.

It is a distance learning programme, and all the 10 students are visually-challenged, and they have logged into the virtual classroom through their mobile devices. With some prodding, Vasudha makes the class participatory — some students mention the words they are hearing for the first time.

The participants are under-graduate students and they are beneficiaries of learning initiatives from Help the Blind Foundation (HTBF), a non-governmental organisation focussed on offering university education for the visually impaired.

HTBF started offering employability classes, five days a week, in English and Computer Science in mid-March. Previously, these classes were offered on campus after college hours.

Now, teacher-volunteers offer lessons, correct homework and give feedback on WhatsApp and some also offer one-to-one classes.

Nataraj Sankaran, a trustee, says around 500 students from 17 colleges from Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Coimbatore, Varnasi, Indore and Bangalore are enrolled with them.

“We had 250 students attending our on campus classes, but since the lockdown, the number and enthusiasm has increased,” says Sankaran.

They also have an increased number of volunteers, largely faculty from colleges, helping them in creating audio classes or modifying the curriculum. Some are reading paragraphs and sending them as audio files.

Vasudha, who is an English faculty at St. Anne’s College in Bengaluru, says she finds her students more proactive in their learning engagement on the new platform.

“Recently, I gave them a task where they had to be a reporter after listening to a COVID-19 related news. I was surprised to see that even students who are usually reticent, took part in the exercise,” she says.

Tweaking the curriculum

HTBF had to effect changes in its curriculum to make it online-friendly; even the trainers had to be reoriented. Stepping in as their knowledge partner, Enable India facilitated this process.

Teaching computer science was a challenge. “Some of our students have not even touched a keyboard, so the challenge was huge,” says Sankaran.

So, visualisation techniques had to be adopted. Example: to visualise a keyboard they had to imagine a rectangular object at home like a cutting board. So, they onboarded some visually-impaired teachers to teach these students, he says.

There were other barriers.

“For those who could not afford a phone, we provided the recharged option so that they could borrow their neighbour’s phone,” says Sankaran.

Adaptation time

The lockdown period presents an opportunity to adapt to new learning modes. HTBF plans to continue this distance learning programme until May. “ We plan to engage students on weekends even after the college reopens,” he says.

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Printable version | Jul 4, 2020 12:02:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/covid-19-students-with-vision-impairment-shift-to-new-platform/article31276355.ece

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