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September 25, 2018

Policy guidelines for low vision learners unveiled

The ministry of education, science and technology has developed a draft policy guideline that will support the development of comprehensive low vision assessment and provision of requisite devices.

The policy, developed in conjunction with Christian Blind Mission, will also come up with a selection of the most appropriate literacy media, placement and access to quality education to learners with visual impairment.

Education practices for the visually impaired currently focus mostly on blind learners, leaving out those with low vision, although at 90 per cent, they are the largest subgroup among learners with visual impairment

Data has not been updated since 1995, but a study conducted by the Christian Blind Mission (CBM) in conjunction with the ministry of education in six specials schools and two integrated programmes that year, established that the population of learners with low vision was the majority, comprising 68 per cent.

It also found that 57 per cent of the learners with low vision were being taught to read using Braille only, even though 79 per cent of them had the potential to read N5 to N8 near-vision Needen (normal print) and a further nine per cent had the potential to read N10-N36 (large) print. However, low vision services and devices were inadequate in most schools.

Currently, screening and comprehensive low vision assessments are concentrated in special schools for the visually impaired and a few integrated education programmes.

Funded by CBM and other donors, Low Vision Project is clustered in four faith-based eye hospitals including PCEA Kikuyu Hospital, Kwale Eye centre, Sabatia Eye hospital and Tenwek Hospital. Each hospital covers the host county and its environs, but this leaves the majority of counties with no comprehensive low vision services.

“The ministry of education does not have guidelines on comprehensive low vision evaluation resulting in most of the learners attending integrated programmes and regular schools not receiving comprehensive low vision services. There are also no collaborative structures between the ministries of education and health for the needed multi-disciplinary approach in low vision assessment,” indicates the new draft policy. The policy also notes the inadequacy of qualified personnel and tools for assessment.

According to the policy guideline, areas of assessment should include screening, ophthalmologic and optometric evaluation, clinical low vision evaluation, functional vision assessment, and literacy media assessments. Subsequently, persons confirmed to have visual impairment should be registered with the National Council for Persons with Disability.

One of the most important requirements in planning for learners with visual impairment educational programme is assessing the learner’s strengths and weaknesses to determine whether the child has a visual disability, its nature, extent and the special education and other related services that the child needs.

The draft policy guideline intends to strengthen the existing low vision assessment provisions and develop structure for early identification, assessment, ophthalmic/optometric intervention and appropriate placement of learners with visual impairments in every county.

The newly developed guideline provides for the ministry in collaboration with others, to develop a comprehensive structure to guide provisions of low vision services in line with requirements of children with visual impairment.

“It will establish formal linkages with relevant ministries, partners and professionals with a view of establishing a formalised multi-disciplinary team for assessment, referral and intervention of learners with visual impairment. The ministry will also come up with new assessment and referral tools and continually review the existing ones.”

In-service and professional development courses for assessment teachers and other related personnel will be conducted to equip them with necessary knowledge and skills in low vision and mechanism for guidance and counseling for parents/guardians, learners and teachers of children with visual impairment, provided.

The objective of the policy guideline is to facilitate the selection of the most appropriate learning media for individual learners with visual impairment. This will be done through the creation of a multidisciplinary comprehensive literacy media assessment criterion for learners with visual impairment.

“Among other interventions, the ministry of education and the Kenya National Examination Council shall through this guideline, allow for alternative mode of communication other than Braille to enable learners in some of the visual impairment categories access the adapted curriculum and examination.”

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development has made some effort in developing pre-school curriculum for children with visual impairment, in-service certificate curriculum for teacher trainees in Special Needs Education and diploma syllabus for teacher trainees for learners with visual impairment. It has also adapted primary, secondary and primary Teacher Training College curriculum to suit learners who are blind.

However, education for blind learners and those with low vision continue to face challenges in regard to curriculum. The curriculum and support materials for these learners get to them much later than those for their counterparts in the regular school set up and these delays result in the learners lagging behind in the syllabus implementation which adversely affects their performance in schools. “In some cases, by the time the curriculum is designed for them, new changes may be taking effect in the same curriculum and the vicious cycle continues.”

Other challenges have been rigid and inaccessible curricula. “There is need to have a curriculum that is adequately responsive to the needs of learners who are blind and those with low vision in terms of flexibility and adequacy of time, content, teaching, learning resources, methodology, mode of access and assessment.”

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