January, 2022

Challenges in Providing Learning Materials for Special Needs Children in Developing Countries

A focus on the Availability of Braille Resources

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 15% of the global population, or a billion individuals, live with some form of disability.

Developing countries have the highest prevalence, accounting for 80% of this demographic, with 1 in 10 being a child. Persons living with disabilities in developing countries face a myriad of challenges, these include poverty, poor access to health services, and a lack of quality education.

Illiteracy is one of the most prominent issues with disability in developing countries face. A majority of these regions don’t have the facilities, teacher training, and most importantly, essential learning materials for special needs children. School-going children (ages 5 to 17) are excluded from mainstream classrooms even for limited impairments like poor vision, partial hearing loss, or limited mobility.

Photo credits: WHO

Disabilities for Children

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) defines a disability as; a long-term mental, physical, sensory or intellectual impairment, which, combined with various barriers, may hinder a person’s effective participation in society at the same capacity with others.

Special needs children in low-income countries (LICs) range on a broad scale. Learning disabilities, locomotor impairment, blindness, hearing loss/impairment, speech and language disability are examples of issues affecting children in developing nations. In this blog, we will focus specifically on blind or visually impaired children.

Photo credits: cbm.org

Educating Visually Impaired Children

Childhood blindness, low vision, and visual impairment, are prevalent in LICs across Africa and Asia. Causes of vision problems in children include illnesses (such as corneal conditions), accidents, trauma, and war. The severity of visual impairment varies across individuals. Persons with vision problems encounter challenges in learning, general operation, locomotion, and social interaction, among other areas. However, it’s still necessary to develop their intellectual abilities through education, so they can realize their potential and contribute effectively to society.

One way to meet the learning needs of children with visual impairments is through adaptive standard school curriculums. Therefore, governments and the school system must ensure special needs children access teaching techniques and learning materials tailored to their demands. A big obstacle is that resource-poor countries lack the capacity to structure their curriculums to assimilate special needs education.

Photo credits: Save the Children 

Children with vision problems require various adaptations that allow them to participate in the entire curriculum. Learning material requirements depend on the level of functional vision. One child might have to use braille, while another could make do with large print. Accessible Educational/Instructional Materials (AEMs, AIMs) cater to the largest spectrum of student variability. Although this article focuses on braille code, it considers several other options available for visually impaired children. They include:

  • Large print books – Some students with low vision need pages printed in larger than average letters to see properly.
  • Increased contrast – Enhancing the contrast in certain learning materials improves visibility.
  • Tactile graphics – These materials convey non-textual information, such as maps, pictures and graphs.
  • Teacher-made materials – In certain cases, educators have to craft specialized instructional content to match individual requirements.

Braille is a literacy medium expressed as raised dots to help blind and visually impaired persons to read and write. For decades, mechanical braille writing tools were used to give students with special needs quality learning or instructional materials. However, the options can be severely limited, which impacts the curriculum offered to visually impaired children.

Many LICs Still use these systems due to lack of access to high-tech assistive technology tools. Developments in braille assistive technology over the past 25 years have been created primarily by the for-profit sector. On the other hand, mechanical devices for braille writing have remained mostly in the dominion of the non-profit sector and have effectively been removed from the forces that lead to innovation and improvements in products and cheaper prices

When available, a large percentage of instructional and learning materials for visually impaired learners are found in special schools. Various nations have schools for the blind that serve this particular demographic. However, only a few of these institutions are present, meaning they only accommodate a limited number of students. The rest have to try to fit into the conventional school system. Structuring education programs for the visually impaired incurs considerable costs and comprehensive planning that many developing nations lack the means, or enough commitment, to satisfy.

Learning materials for special needs children are crucial, because they simplify teaching, especially for students with one type of disability, and also gives them a chance to keep up with non-disabled children. Well-structured content and tools make communication between educators and learners easy and interesting, particularly in inclusive schools, where visually impaired children share classes with their able-bodied counterparts. Another factor is that children who use specialized tools tend to learn better than those who don’t. It’s not sufficient for schools to provide AIMs, though. They must also encourage proper utilization. Teachers, students, braille transcribers, and anyone else in the education ecosystem should know how to utilize learning resources.

Impediments to Availability of Braille Materials

One of the biggest issues impeding inclusive education is the lack of funds. According to the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2016: 44), a majority of school systems in developing countries don’t have the resources, financial capita, or teachers with proper training in special education to cater to special needs students in regular schools. Another obstacle identified is the limited information available on funding of inclusive education.

Photo credit: UNICEF 

Although assistive technology has come a long way, many LICs struggle to take advantage of available options. A majority of the technologies on the market are for the for-profit sector. Consequently, countries without the capacity to invest in high-tech learning materials have to settle for outdated braille writing tools. Moreover, it takes a lot of time and resources to produce braille materials in facilities that lack modern technology. Developing nations have a large information gap on the requirements of children with disabilities. Many regions have yet to establish standard assessment protocols for students with special needs. This limitation makes it difficult for governments to develop suitable curriculums, which affects the production of appropriate learning content.

Conclusion

Quality education is one of the tools that can help children living with disabilities make something of themselves and contribute to society. Thus, developing nations and major stakeholders such as national donors should endeavor to provide special needs children with the necessary resources to access education, regardless of social or economic standings. For that, school systems require adequate funding to secure appropriate learning materials. Nevertheless, even with funding constraints, governments and other stakeholders should work together to find innovative solutions to provide children with special needs with the necessary learning materials.

Besides spending money on braille resources and other adaptive learning tools, governments should invest in inclusive education programs. Visually impaired children who want to study in regular schools should have the freedom to do so. For this reason, all stakeholders must ensure effective inclusion that doesn’t discriminate against special needs children. Financing to aid in these efforts can be channeled through both the government and non-profit organizations that specialize in supporting and campaigning for special needs education.

References

Prince, R., Inclusive and Speical Education Approaches in Developing Countries, 2018

Borgen Magazine, Special Needs Children in Developing Countries, 2014

World Health Organisation, World Report on Disability, 2011

Andrew, O., The Challenges of Educating the Visually Impaired and Quality Assurance in Tertiary Institutions of Learning in Nigeria, 2015

Muguti, L., Learning Challenges Faced by Special Needs Education Learners in Public Primary Schools in Mvita Division, Mombasa Country, Kenya, 2011

Nnennaya Kanno, T. & Onyeachu, J., On Instructional Resources for Teaching Special Needs Children in Aiba State, Nigeria, 2020

American Foundation for the Blind, The Challenge of Assistive Technology and Braille Literacy, 2008

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