Worldwide, technology has advanced so rapidly such that it has become necessary for an individual to be abreast with the latest happenings in the world of Science and technology.
The desire to be proficient in Science, Technology and Mathematics is currently on the rise amongst the youth in Ghana. This height of interest in science and mathematics has been partially due to the emergence of the National Science and Maths Quiz which has been in existence over two decades. However, this is not the case for the visually impaired student.
Okuapeman Secondary School is a coeducational second cycle school with over 3000 students. It is an all-inclusive school which has a designated section for visually impaired students. This section was introduced in the year 1984 with only two students enrolling.
Both the visually impaired and the sighted students share similar classes, dormitories and activities. However, one major difference that exists is the inability of the visually impaired student to study Science and Math-related courses. This “opportunity” is only available for the sighted. This restriction has significantly handicapped the visually impaired especially those who may have an interest in pursuing Science and technology.
In the Ghanaian Educational System, all secondary high school students are expected to study eight subjects. Four out of which are core subjects: Mathematics, Integrated Science, English and Social Studies. However, the study of Science and Maths has not been possible for these students due to factors such as their inability to compute using calculators, poor perception of colours and challenges with the physical measurement of quantities.
Till date, no system has been thought of to support and enhance these students in learning Science and Mathematics in their school. Knowing that there are many technologies invented to facilitate the learning of Science for the visually impaired student, Ghana as a country is yet to cross that bridge. Upon interacting with some of the teachers and authorities in the school, I noticed that the visually impaired students are currently being introduced to computer software such as Jaws and NVDA that enable them to hear every command they put into their computer.
According to the teachers, using the computers in place of the brailles have rather slowed down the progress of their teaching as there are only two functioning computers for their usage. On the contrary, the visually impaired students believed the use of the braille has rather proven to be a disadvantage to them during their final national examinations that is the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE). Having said this, the West African Examination Council (WAEC) is yet to introduce the use of computers during examinations into its module for the visually impaired.
According to the Girls’ Prefect for the visually impaired section, she believes that sometimes what they write is not what is transcribed for them. She added that the use of computers would rather make it easier for their scripts to be marked without the use of braillists to transcribe their work for markers to assess: a process which is prone to many errors. With this examination serving as a justification of student’s academic abilities, these students feel greatly disadvantaged as compared to the sighted counterparts.
It is rather unfortunate that the talents that could be nurtured among the visually impaired students are being cut off by a onetime university entrance sitting-examination. For those with interest in Science, no such provision has been put in place to harness this passion. All visually impaired students who wish to pursue Science in future are left with the only option of study which is General Arts. Many of these students have had to give up on their dreams of pursuing the basic or applied sciences. Reasons being the inadequate support systems to facilitate their education and learning.
A second-year student said, “I like the Science and Maths and I always stay behind in class when the sighted students are being taught, only that it is difficult for me to relate to what is being taught without any aids.” The mentality that Science and Math is impossible for the visually impaired here in Ghana is an ideology that needs to be discarded.
As a way of diffusing this mindset about Science, Technology and Mathematics, I took the opportunity to mentor a few of the visually impaired female students. My aim was to first understand their learning methods and strategies used in the absence of facilities that will enhance their learning of Science and Mathematics. I brought on board some ways through which they can further build and enhance their knowledge of Science and Mathematics.
With this visit, I got to appreciate their cognitive power and talents. They could only imagine what the physical world has in store but they cannot behold it. After my talk with the girls, they further appreciated the field of Science, Technology and Mathematics.
With this platform, I call on governmental and non-governmental agencies to look beyond providing brailles for the visually impaired. It is high time we looked into how we can build these talented students up despite their disability in the area of science, technology and mathematics. We may be late to implement this, but it is better late than never. Let’s not fold hands and watch our human resource in the visually impaired go down the drain. We just need to set the foundation right for these young people. The time to act is now.
The writer, Dionne-Marie Daku-Mante, was a student of Wesley Girls’ High School and was a National Science and Maths Quiz semi-finalist in 2019.
Writer’s email: [email protected]