(continued from previous Monday issue)
Blind people and the problems they face in Georgia
By Esma Gumberidze
Monday, April 7
Additional activities for the blind
The Ministry of Science and Education of Georgia has said that public school No. 202, which specializes in teaching blind students, is too small for the demand and could be relocated to a district in the outskirts of Tbilisi. A lot of parents are concerned by this, since they take their kids to music or singing classes in other parts of Tbilisi and also it is a good opportunity for the students to spend time with their peers from other schools and integrate further into society.
By relocating the school, the students would have to spend more time commuting to their extracurricular activities. Studying to play a musical instrument or to sing requires a lot of time, so it's impossible to spend hours just getting to and from one place to another. In addition, it takes plenty of time to practice.
However, the school van taking students to their place of extracurricular study would be an inadequate solution for this situation, because there are approximately 50 blind students in school No. 202 and almost all of them have an "individual schedule". Some grades have 5 classes a day, others have 7.
When the Ministry of Science and Education of Georgia says that the building of school No. 202 is too small for the students it holds, they are not exactly accurate, because in a three story building there are approximately 50 students and some rooms in the building are even locked and not used.
So, in my opinion, there is enough space for 50-70 more students. If the government is going to build a bigger school, they would have to somehow artificially increase the amount of students in order to fill a newer, larger building. How can they do it? Most likely, they would accept more and more children, who in addition to vision problems (which in some cases might be really small) have severe mental and nervous disabilities that seriously damage and disturb their abilities to study.
The school administration, in order to increase the amount of students, has already been accepting those with additional mental disorders for a while, so our school little by little is changing it's function, turning to a rehabilitation centre instead of a school. Kids with such disorders need to be taught completely different skills than students who are just blind.
Apart from teaching kids with mental disorders, teachers need different training and qualifications than the ones who teach blind kids. Even in a country like the United States with a highly developed inclusive education for children with mental and severe learning disorders, children with disabilities are treated in a specialized manner. Even if they go to either mainstream schools or to schools for the blind, they are taught in different classes and in separate classrooms from the rest of the students by specially trained teachers.
In school No. 202, however, these kids sit side by side with ones who are just blind. Because of their disability, they aren't able to learn the mainstream schools' curriculum that the school for the blind follows and they don't have an opportunity to learn the skills they need to know and are able to learn, so they just sit in the classrooms, not able to participate in studying, practically excluded from the learning process.
Some of these children understand that they are not like their fellow classmates who are only blind, that they can't learn what the blind students can, which makes them feel uncomfortable. Besides, some mentally disordered children are aggressive and hyperactive, so teachers, instead of teaching their class, have to spend much time calming them down, which prevents the blind students from learning at their otherwise regular pace.
The blind students and their parents, who have no additional disability besides blindness, would practically lose their legitimate right to choose, whether they use their right of inclusive education and go to a mainstream school or go to a specialized school for the blind.
Of course, on paper, they would still have that option, but imagine if you were a parent of a child who is blind, even if you wished your child to study in a specialized school, would you agree to take him/her to such a school, knowing that your kid wouldn’t get a proper education in that school, because most of his/her classmates will have other disabilities besides blindness and they might be disturbing your child’s learning process? I wouldn't.
So if the Ministry of Education has in mind the interests of the blind students of school No. 202, they certainly should leave the school in an area where it's easy to reach and in its original structure.
Now school No. 202 is located in the city centre and is easily accessible for those teachers who are blind as well. If it is going to be moved to the outskirts, where there is limited access to public transportation and it would be farther away from their homes, the blind teachers would also lose an opportunity to teach. This would be a huge social problem for the blind teachers,
So, if the Union of the Blind of Georgia agrees that school No. 202 for the blind must be moved away from it's current location and the building moved to a property of the Union of the Blind as offered by the Ministry of Education, this NGO should not forget considering the interests of the blind students and their teachers, which are the most important to be considered when discussing the fate of any school.
(to be continued)