Discovering Colours In Darkness
By Azera Parveen Rahman
NALANDA, Bihar, 27 May - It’s a hot summer day, and the air is still. While silence envelopes the Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya, Maghra—the school is closed for summer vacations—a melodious sound drifts from a distance. As you follow the sound, it becomes louder, until you reach a classroom of children, all visually impaired, and singing with all their heart. Their song which roughly translates into “...let our childhood be beautiful”, touches a chord somewhere and could not be more apt.
At the visually impaired residential camp, here in Maghra, in the Nalanda district of Bihar, all the 42 children (12 girls and 30 boys) sit peacefully, cross-legged, on the ground. Their music teacher, also blind, sits nearby, nodding her head to their voices and tapping her hand on the arm of the chair, counting the beats.
In an effort to bring children with disabilities to the fold of education, the Bihar state government, in December last year, sent a notification saying that special residential camps for bridge course be organised for disabled children in the age group of 6-14. The camps, which will be of 45 days to one year duration, will benefit a total of 58,204 children across the state, not just to get education equivalent to class 8, but also develop self-confidence to integrate in society.
UNICEF supports the initiative as part of its overall technical support through the State Quality Mission of Bihar Education Project Council in the Department of Education for improving quality of education in elementary schools in the state.
“Some of the children have been to school before but have not learnt much because of the challenges they face. Here, therefore, we first evaluate a child's knowledge and then place him or her in either of the three groups—A,B,C—depending on how much they know. A group can have kids of different age groups,” Sanjay Kumar, teacher and centre in-charge of th Maghra camp says.
One of the first lessons that the children are taught when they come to the camp is how to use Braille. Braille is a writing system in which raised dots indicate different alphabets, numbers, punctuation marks, et al, which the blind or visually impaired can touch and understand.
“It is very important to learn Braille, because that becomes the medium of teaching. The aim is that by the time a child leaves this camp at the age of 14, or in class 8, and takes admission in class 9 in a general school, he or she can hear the teacher’s voice and write their lessons in Braille,” Kumar explains. The children learn both English and Hindi, and numbers, using Braille.
Nandan Kumar, aged 14, for instance, completed his bridge course in this camp and has now taken admission in class 9 in the Diyama Middle School near his village in the same district. He is now visiting his old teachers since classes has not begun in his new school.
Before coming to this camp I was a different person. My confidence was low, and I believed every time a person told me, ‘you are blind, how can you learn anything’,” Nandan narrates, as he seats on his old bed in the boys dorm of the camp.
Sonu Kumar is also14 years old and as Nandan he has passed out of the camp to take admission in class 9 in a different school. “I like it better here than in the new school,” he confesses. “But I want to study more, go to college, and become a teacher one day...for other children like me,” says very convinced.
The children in this residential camp have a set routine, which includes waking up early, at 6 a.m., washing themselves, getting ready for classes, studying, playing and prayer before sleep, with time slots for meals in between. The three teachers and helpers who stay with the kids ensure that their needs are taken care of.
Wearing her salwar-kurta—the uniform for girls—impeccably and her hair in a neat plait, Gudiya Kumari, aged 10, recognizes that although she misses home and her parents, she likes being here. “I love the fact that I can read and write,” she states, and as if to prove her knowledge, she quickly writes her name, the date and her address in Braille on a sheet of paper.
In the classroom where the children sit, names of animals, fruits, vegetables, days of the week, and other such information that you see in brightly coloured charts in kids’ classrooms elsewhere, are all written in Braille and pasted low on the wall so that the children can touch and understand.
Holding his counting frame, or abacus, in hand, 12-year-old Bikash Kumar carefully counts numbers on his teacher’s insistence. “I can add and subtract using this,” Bikash says, as he rolls the tiny beads on the frame. At the camp children also enjoy playing “We play cricket and football, and also Braille cards,” Bikash adds.
Building self-confidence day by day
In spite of the many challenges these children face, what they learn in the camp is helping them to build self-confidence to do things independently.
With the bell about to go for lunch, Sanjay Kumar allows one of the youngest students, the tiny Chandra Shekhar Azad to sing a song.