On World Optometry Day, Dr Anne Ebri, shares an inspiring optometry driven initiative to give children with low vision access to their right of education…
Children who are born blind or who become blind at a very young age should receive special education as soon as possible. There have been campaigns to support schools to enroll persons with disabilities. UNESCO Education for all (1), the Global Partnership for Education (2), and the Global Campaign for Education (3) and the International Council for the Education of Visually Impaired (ICEVI) (4) have a common goal which is to promote equal access to appropriate education for all children and youth with visual disabilities. Optometry can play a vital role in ensuring that severely visually impaired children have access to education. As eye care professionals, the education rehabilitation as a continuum of care has remained too long on the wish list.
In Calabar- Nigeria, the opportunity was provided through the Seeing Is Believing Comprehensive Child Eye Health Project in Nigeria. One of the project’s objectives was to; improve the quality of early intervention and education of blind children and children with severe visual impairment”.
Cross River State with a population of 3.7 million and school enrollment of 312,509 (5) had 4 special need centres for children with disabilities excluding the visually impaired. The only faith- based (non- Government) school for the visually impaired, located in the far north of the State had suffered major setbacks in funding support, to the extent that the number of enrollees had drastically reduced from 30 to 5 students.
The Ministry of Education whose mandate is to provide quality education to its citizens reported education for the visually impaired as a major gap and challenge. The reasons for this included:
- skilled educators are not available to teach the children,
- the few educators with skills remain at the tertiary institutions due to poor renumerations offered by the State Government
- Allowances and incentives approved by the Federal Government are not being implemented at state level.
- Schools are poorly equipped
- The school environment is unsuitable for mobility of the blind child.
- Parents feel stigmatized and keep their children at homes
Through the SIB Child Eye health project, a committee for education of the blind child was set up, comprising of representatives of: Special education department of the University of Calabar, ophthalmology department of University Teaching Hospital, Brien Holden Vision Institute and led by the Cross River State Ministry of Education. The collaborative efforts initiated and supported by the Seeing is Believing Child Eye Health project 2017- 2019 resulted in the following outcomes:
- A renovated and equipped Braille laboratory for teaching
- landscaped school environment for safe mobility
- Teacher ‘s teaching curriculum developed
- Visually impaired children are taught in Braille by 25 skilled educators in curriculum development and Braille education.
- Supervisory and mentorship support are being provided by the special education department of the University of Calabar.
- Five (5) Educators are trained in Braille repairs and maintenance
- World White Cane Day sensitization was carried for advocacy purposes
The approach ensures that eligible enrollees for the school are identified early at the Tertiary Hospital. Secondly, parent’s education is carried out by the skilled educators to inform parents of the available support for their children, address their fears and anxieties prior to enrollment.
Thus, comprehensive child eye health must include education rehabilitation as a component of care aimed at the overall wellbeing of the child.
- Education for All: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/education-for-all/
- Global Campaign for Education: http://www.campaignforeducation.org/
- http://icevi.org/ International Council for Education of people with visual impairment
- Nigeria Education indicators 2016, Federal Ministry of Education Abuja
Image on top: An Eye screening exercise for school children in Lagos, Nigeria by ANDERSON ENOGHAYIN for #VisionFirst photo competition