Time to balance the equation
Do parents still have the same kind of dreams? Most schools across India do not teach Science or Mathematics to blind children beyond class 8. Blind children are encouraged to take up subjects like music, language courses, handicrafts or humanities instead. Science and Mathematics are seen as beyond the learning capacity of these children.
In 1973, when in class 9, I had to make a choice of my elective subjects, I was told that I would not be able to handle Physics, Chemistry and Biology because there would be practicals and with the kind of eyesight I had, I would serve me better to choose other subjects.
Likewise traditionally Mathematical concepts are taught using a number of elements such as diagrams, tables, graphs, charts and so on which are visual, and the perception, that blind children cannot learn the subject, strengthens.
Pratish Datta lost his eyesight when he was in middle school. He wanted to study science, but at the time the school and the system forbade him. His parents however insisted that he take up Mathematics. His mother committed herself to providing Pratish with all the support needed to pursue Mathematics. Pratish completed his schooling, and then went on to continue studying Mathematics at St Xaviers College, Kolkata and then signed up for his PhD in Criptology at IIT Kharakpur. In 2012, he won the much acclaimed Prof J.C Bose Award at IIT Kharakpur for topping in all subjects including Mathematics. In 10 years time, Pratish aspires to return to IIT Kharakpur as a Professor.
Kartik Sahwney is presently a freshman at Stanford, USA. He is doing an undergraduate programme in Computer Sciences on full scholarship. He completed his class 12th from DPS (Delhi Public School) in 2013 with Science and Mathematics scoring 96%. The CBSE Board allows blind students to study Science and Mathematics in High School, however in reality, very few students take up Science or Mathematics simply because the pedagogy, teaching tools, study material, systemic support and will to teach (in many cases) is missing. Kartik and his parents were determined and they were fortunate that DPS, RK Puram was supportive. The school, though initially hesitant, went the full distance. They were flexible, innovative and committed to Kartik’s cause.
Devnar School for the blind, Hyderabad is one of those special schools where it was realised that the study of Science and Mathematics was important for blind children. Over the years, the teachers of the school have developed tools and techniques that helped transfer scientific and mathematical concepts and overcome the barriers posed by lack of sight. Biology is taught with ease to blind students using real sized models created and put together by the dedicated and innovative teaching staff of the school.
The stories of Kartik, Pratish and some of the students who have passed out of Devnar School are truly inspiring. One is compelled to raise the question: Is the problem really with the ability of blind students to learn and comprehend Science and Mathematics or is it with the inability of the system to effectively teach these subjects. How important is doing practicals to the study of Science? Can we look at being a little flexible and innovative here? As in the case of Kartik practicals can be understood just as well regardless of who performs them, cant we consider group work where blind students are included? Aren’t there alternative possibilities to diagrams, graphs, tables in using and studying Mathematics?
Math and Science govern the environment of not only sighted but also blind children. From preparing the budget at home to understanding the best course of action in the case of an injury, Science and Math are all around us. It is important to have the same kind of expectations from a blind child that you might have from a sighted child. It is not the disability that prevents so many blind students from taking up Math and Science, it is our lack of faith in their ability. The day we stop focussing on the problem and start looking for solutions, we will be amazed at the possibilities life has to offer. This coming from someone who did his bachelor’s in Mathematics despite being blind.
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