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According to its State Council, there are about 70,000 school aged blind children (ages 7-15) in China. Most of them are living in rural areas and villages. It is almost impossible for them to receive education at the schools for the blind which are all located in the main cities. The living expenses of the schools for the blind is another prohibiting factor since most of the blind students are from poor families. This paper gives a brief account on the present situations of the schools for the blind in China. Assessments are made on the quality of staff training, staff : student ratio and equipment and facilities. It is suggested that Integrated Education in normal schools is one of the feasible ways of enabling the mass number of blind students living in the rural areas to receive the necessary education. The schools for the blind can serve as the education resources centres, providing staff training, resource support, administration and supervision to the programme.
II. Present Situation of the Schools for the Blind in China
A survey to 13 blind schools in China was conducted by the Hong Kong Society for the Blind in 1996, which included all major blind schools in the major cities of China. These blind schools altogether employed 386 teachers, providing educational opportunities to 1,460 visually impaired students. The following were the summary of results of the survey:
2.1 Good Staff Qualification
Of the 386 teachers, 366 were sighted and 20 were visually impaired. Over 68 per cent of them had university education or above. Over 35 per cent of them received special education training. This team of highly qualified staff was one of the biggest assets in the blind education in China.
2.2 High Staff : Student Ratio
The average staff : student ratio was 1:3.78, which was very high comparing to a ratio of 1:8 in Hong Kong. This high staff:student ratio ensured that enough attention and guidance were given to the visually impaired students.
2.3 Lacking Appropriate Equipment and Facility
Braille Production Equipment
The following table illustrated the braille production equipment available at the blind schools in China.
Name of EquipmentNo. of schoolsTotal QuantityYesNoComputer5827Interpoint Embosser0130Single sided Embosser3103Computerized BrailleEditing System1121Brailler103119Thermoform Machine859Scanner2112 Table 1 : Braille Production Equipment of Blind Schools in China
It can be concluded that braille production in blind schools in China is still at the manual operation stage. Of the thirteen blind schools surveyed, only 3 possessed the single sided embosser and 8 possessed thermoform machines. Also the number of braillers is far from adequate. Ten schools for the blind possessed a total of 119 braillers, with an average of 10 students to one brailler.
Talking Books Production Equipment
Talking books production equipment were generally lacking among the schools for the blind in China. Apart from the Kumming School for the Deaf and Blind, all other blind schools possessed only simple cassette recorders. Table 2 illustrated the recording facilities available at the schools for the blind in China.
Name of EquipmentNo. of schoolsTotal QuantityYesNoMaster Recorder1121Demagnetization Machine3105Cassette Recorder10384Double Cassette Recorder677Open Reel Recorder1121Digital Recorder1122Table 2 : Talking Book Production Equipment at Schools for the Blind in ChinaIII. Proposed New Roles of Blind Schools in China in Education for the Visually Impaired Children It can be concluded that the Blind Schools in China are characterised by a strong team of qualified staff. The staff : student ratio is high. Facility and equipment, in general, are insufficient. With 60,000 school aged visually impaired children and less than 2,000 places available at the blind schools, the only viable alternative is to enable the visually impaired children to study at the nearby schools located in the rural villages where most of these students lived, with resources support provided to the teachers and visually impaired children concerned.
It is important to reorganise the role of the blind schools in China in order that the resources available can be put into maximum usage to enable the largest number of visually impaired receiving the needed education.
3.1 Blind Schools To Serve as Training Centres
With the team of highly qualified teaching staff, the blind schools can serve as training centres for the rural village school teachers teaching the visually impaired children. Regular in-service training courses could be conducted to upkeep these teachers with the latest skills and techniques of education for visually impaired children.
The Blind Schools To Serve as Centres of Resources Support
Although not adequately equipped, the blind schools possess the best resources available for blind education in the Province. The blind schools should, therefore, take up the role of providing the necessary resources support, such as braille reading materials and talking book materials for visually impaired students studying at normal classes.
IV. Integrated Education Programme for Visually Impaired Children in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
1 General Introduction
Realizing the need for education for the vast number of visually imparied children in the Region, in 1995, the Education Commission of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region embarked on the Integrated Education Programme for the visually impaired children. It plans to put more than 1,500 visually impaired school aged children into normal schools located near their living area, many of them are simple rural village schools lacking equipment and facilities for the visually impaired students. After the first year of implementation, it was found that one major difficulty experienced is the lack of braille textbooks, reading material and appropriate facility for use both by the teachers and the children .
The Hong Kong Society for the Blind paid a site visit to some of the rural village schools in the Guangxi Zhang Autonomous Region. It was found that the visually impaired students have made tremendous progress after they studying in school for one year. They were more self-confident. They were more hopeful of the future and most important of all, they felt they were part of the school and the community. Their study, however, was much handicapped by the lack of proper reading material and textbooks.
Setting up of Education Resources Centres
An agreement was reached between the Hong Kong Society for the Blind and the Education Commission of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to set up three education resources centres, one at the provincial level and two at the district level, at a total cost of H.K. 2 million. (app.US$260,000) The Provincial Level Education Resources Centre was set up at the Nanning School for the Blind. Apart from installing the necessary braille production equipment, a talking book production studio, a language laboratory and other necessary equipment, it is intended to set up a role model for the blind schools in China to serve the role as resources support for Integrated Education Programme for Visually Impaired Children.
The following table listed the equipment to be installed at the three Resource Centres :
Name of EquipmentProvincial LevelDistrict Level(for2 Centres)Total for 3 centresRemarksComputer Equipment84x216Purchased inChinaInterpoint Embosser44x212Purchased inH.K.Brailler3010x250Purchased inH.K.Talking Book Production Equipment1 setn/a1 setPurchased inChinaCCTV32x27Purchased inH.K.Color Zoom Vista1n/a1Purchased inH.K.Thermoform11x23Purchased inH.K.Braillon15boxes5x2boxes25boxesPurchased inH.K.Language Laboratory1 setn/a1 setPurchased inChinaCassette Recorder2010x240Purchased inChinaMiscellaneous Teaching Equipment1 setn/a1 setPurchased inChina Staff Training Course for Education Resources Centres A staff training course was conducted from 7 to 14 July 1997 at the Nanning School for the Blind by the Hong Kong Society for the Blind. Contents of the training course included i) the use of technical aids in braille production, ii) new mandarin braille system, iii) repair of technical aids and iv) use of technical equipment. Fifteen teachers attended the training course. All of them have mastered the skills of computer braille production. For the first time, those teachers were able to produce the braille materials needed by their visually impaired students by themselves.
V. Roles of the Education Resource Centres
5.1 Provision of Braille and Talking Books Material
Requests for braille material can also be sent to the three resources centres. These material included textbooks, interesting stories, extra-curricular readings, etc. Visually impaired students would be able to acquire the needed reading material on time.
5.2 Teachers' Training Centres
The Provincial Level Education Resources Centre, the Nanning School for the Blind, will take up the role of the Teachers' Training Centre. With the complete set of equipment available, the School will be able to implement new teaching skills and knowledge. The knowledge and skills acquired will be taught to other teachers.
5.3 Programme Advisory Centre
The three Education Resource Centres will serve as the Programme Advisory Centres of the Region. Teachers of the School will have regular meetings with the teachers of the visually impaired children to give advice and discuss ways of improving the educational method and solving any difficulties that may arise.
The effectiveness of setting up Education Resources Centres at the Schools for the Blind needed further assessment. Initial observation indicated that both the teachers and the visually impaired children agreed that this is great improvement towards the Integrated Education Programme for the visually impaired. They are able to acquire the braille reading material on time, and with more variety, which was impossible in the past. An evaluation programme will be conducted at the end of 1997 to determine the actual results of the Education Resources Centres, and to implement any improvements that are deemed necessary.
There are about 60,000 school
age visually impaired children in China, most of whom are living in rural
villages. Their educational needs could not be met by the schools for the
blind in China, which are located in the major cities and generally lacking
the necessary braille production and teaching equipment and facilities.
Putting the visually impaired children into normal schools through an Integrated
Education Programme is one of the feasible ways to ensure that the visually
impaired can receive the necessary education. It is suggested that the
schools for the blind in China can play an important role by serving as
the Education Resource Centres in the Region. The Hong Kong Society for
the Blind, in cooperation with the Education Commission of the Guangxi
Zhuang Autonomous Region, have set up three Edcuation Resource Centres
in the Region. Training courses on braille and braille production were
provided by the Hong Kong Society for the Blind. Initial observation indicated
that the new roles taken up by the Schools for the Blind have helped made
available braille reading material needed both by the students and teachers.
Further evaluation is needed to determine the extend of effectiveness of
these Education Resource Centres.