Western Cape Education Department Increases Opportunities for Blind Learners
In January 2013, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) launched a pilot project intended to revolutionise the quality of teaching and learning for visually impaired learners.
The pilot examined ways in which the Department could best support blind learners by using different technologies and included the introduction of three new devices that would contribute significantly to improving access to and the quality of learning.
These new devices include the e-braille portable computer; a device for scanning and reading printed text, and a portable mp3 player designed for blind users.
The Western Cape Education Department initially invested more than R1 million in the new technology to support blind learners at two schools in the province - the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South and the Pionier School in Worcester.
Following a successful pilot in 2013, the WCED has expanded the provision of the technology to the two schools.
R4.2 million has been invested to ensure that each blind learner in Grades 4-12, using Braille, was issued with a device at Athlone and Pionier.
Athlone received 30 complete sets (the apex braille note and the monitor) and Pionier – 28 sets.
These computers will make it possible for blind learners to read electronic text using an electro-mechanical display that raises dots against a flat surface.
The device also allows learners to type text in braille, listen to the text via computer-generated speech, and to read and listen to electronic text in various formats, including PDF and Word files.
They can also browse the internet via wi-fi and connect to other devices via Bluetooth. Learners are able to retrieve their text and save their work onto flash drives for assessment.
The department has made electronic versions of relevant teaching and learning materials available, including textbooks to support the implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS).
The WCED has also supplied monitors to support the e-braille portable computers.
These devices can scan and read text to learners via built in speakers using a natural-sounding voice.
The devices, which look like small overhead projectors, capture printed text via a digital camera. The devices use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert text to speech or to provide an output for reading in braille via the e-braille computers.
A training laboratory has been established at each school in order to support both learners and their educators in using the technology.
I am very proud of what we have achieved in advancing the quality of teaching and learning for visually impaired learners in this province.
Not only will the introduction of these computers benefit the learners of these two schools, they also have the ability to assist blind learners that want to attend mainstream schools.
Just recently I visited Swartland High School to meet Grade 9 learner, Pieter-Jans Durr, who moved from the Pionier School for the Blind to Swartland High School – a public ordinary school.
The transfer of Pieter-Jans, a visually impaired learner, to a public ordinary school was made possible through a variety of factors – including the use of an e-braille portable computer.
The opportunities that these new technologies can bring are therefore endless.
I am delighted to end my journey as Education Minister at this school with a positive and revolutionary contribution to education.