A Computer Training Program for the Schools for the Blind in Kenya

By Carrie Bruce, Irene Mbari-Kirika, Peter Okeyo, Carol Ngondi, and Bruce Walker

Dr. Bruce holds the title of Research Scientist II at the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Ms. Mbari-Kirika is founder and Executive Director for inABLE.

Mr. Okeyo and Ms. Ngondi are computer training staff for inABLE at the Thika School.

Dr. Walker is an Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology with joint appointments in the School of Psychology and the School of Interactive of Computing.

Abstract

There is growing interest in developing effective strategies for supporting information and communications technology (ICT) adoption and implementation in Kenya, particularly within the educational sector. However, while there is awareness that access to education through ICT should be equitable for all students, individuals with disabilities, especially those with vision impairments, are generally the lowest priority group. Despite the potential usefulness of ICT for students with vision impairments, most of the schools in Kenya have not been successful at building an effective computer lab program to train students in computer skills and to use computers for academics. This article reports the work of inABLE, an organization dedicated to effectively implementing ICT and empowering students with vision impairments through technology. We discuss the challenges and efforts to address sufficient infrastructure, administrative and personnel support, equipment, and curriculum development necessary to develop a successful computer training program in the Kenyan schools for the blind.

Keywords

Visually impaired, computer access, schools for the blind, Kenya, computer training

 

Introduction

There is growing interest in developing effective strategies for supporting information and communications technology (ICT) adoption and implementation in Kenya, particularly within the educational sector. However, while there is awareness that access to education through ICT should be equitable for all students, individuals with disabilities, especially those with vision impairments, are generally the lowest priority group. Yet, these students have a high likelihood of realizing a benefit from using educational ICT because it enables access to academic, social, and employment opportunities that have historically been unavailable or significantly limited. Organizations such as inABLE, a non-profit based in the United States, have recognized these crucial benefits for students with vision impairment and are developing ICT training and educational support programs for teachers and students at the schools for the blind. These efforts have potential to provide access to life-changing educational opportunities and ICT skills, but are impacted by various factors such as availability of infrastructure and resources, government policies, funding, and skilled personnel shortages.

Many of the efforts to support ICT in education are partly motivated by an interest to participate in the international Education for All (EFA) initiative that is attempting to make education available to “every citizen in every society” by 2015 (United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization, n.d.). Through several reports and initiatives, the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (MOEST) has formally recognized the potential of ICT to improve access to the academic curriculum, facilitate job training skills, and promote future employment for children (Government of Kenya, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 2005). Additionally, the National ICT Strategy for Education and Training (Republic of Kenya, Ministry, 2006) provides guidance in several areas that are necessary for integration of ICT into educational sectors including policies, implementation planning, leadership, infrastructure needs, sustainability, training, and research.

Despite legislation providing free education, financial shortages have resulted in problems meeting the needs of students with and without disabilities. As a result of this financial burden, many families often make the choice to use their limited funds to pay for their sighted child’s schooling first. If a child with vision impairment is able to attend school, he or she often requires specialized resources such as teachers who have additional training, braille textbooks and paper, and other tactile materials to meet their basic educational needs. Expenses for these resources add to the cost per student and are not fully covered by the government. For example, a braille textbook costs approximately $50 compared to $3 for a standard print book and a braille machine for students to take notes or do homework can cost around $800. The Kenyan government does not provide these materials, but does give schools funding to help defray these expenditures. (In 2010, the head teacher at the Thika school reported that it was approximately $15 per student annually, with an almost $24 supplement for certified specialized schools). The budgetary issues associated with the traditional academic tools and resources result in a general inability for schools to provide equal access to education for students with vision impairments.

Students with vision impairments must also contend with disparities in academic courses and achievement testing. The standard curriculum has been modified for students with vision impairments at the secondary level, yet this adapted curriculum offers fewer subject choices and narrowed content within subjects. Students with vision impairments may not be given the opportunity to enroll in classes, such as physics or chemistry, that do not have adapted materials or access to trained personnel who can grade their brailled assignments. Math and science content is modified according to current tactile and verbal techniques and resources, but certain concepts such as graphing may be deemphasized or neglected due to the difficulties in conveying them to students with vision impairment. Updates to the standard curriculum that are made periodically as part of academic evolution generally take longer to get implemented into the adapted curriculum, leaving students with vision impairments in a constant deficit when compared to sighted students. Moreover, accessibility problems with national exams make it nearly impossible for these students to give an informed response to certain types of questions such as those with diagrams or illustrations. Students will automatically underperform on these exams because they are scored on the total of all questions regardless of whether the questions are accessible to them. Consequently, the majority of children with vision impairments are disadvantaged by existing educational resources and procedures, leaving them undereducated and less likely than their sighted classmates to finish school or join the workforce in a competitive employment position.

However, several recent efforts to provide ICT to students with vision impairments in Kenya have improved basic educational access and expanded the possibilities for learning. One of the most often cited projects is the Sightsavers Dolphin Pen program that began in 2007 and gave secondary and university students access to educational materials (e.g., textbooks, word processing, and Internet) through assistive technology software loaded onto a USB device (Dolphin Computer Access, 2007). This project was significant because it did not limit students to working on a specific computer with specialized software. Instead, the pocket-sized device equipped with screen reader, magnification, text to speech, and braille capabilities could be plugged into any computer with a Windows operating system. This portability is particularly useful to college students and students in integrated secondary schools, since they do not have to carry around a personal computer and could use any computer regardless of whether or not it had specialized software. However, at over $1000 per device, schools and most families cannot afford to provide this specific technology to many students.

Computer labs with assistive technology software can be a more practical option for schools that have many students with vision impairments. For these specialized schools that may serve over 200 students with vision impairments, sharing of ICT is necessary to ensure that every student has an opportunity to use it. Although computer labs do not enable students to have computer access outside of school like the Dolphin Pen device, it can be easier for schools to keep track of, maintain, and replace desktop or laptop computers. Additionally, some of the specialized software can be purchased at a reduced rate for multiple users and may even be available in a free version.

Regardless of the potential usefulness of ICT for students with vision impairments, most of the schools in Kenya have not been successful at building an effective computer lab program to train students in computer skills and use computers for academics. A number of the specialized schools for blind students have received computer donations over the years, but the computers often go unused by students with vision impairments. Some of the labs are locked or permanently closed. Computer donations are relatively easy to acquire compared to the longer-term needs associated with infrastructure, personnel, and training materials and content. The schools often have budget constraints, space and connectivity problems, and a lack of trained personnel that can make it nearly impossible to operate a computer lab program. Another concern is that there is neither a computer training curriculum available through the Ministry of Education nor any training materials that have been developed and tested in Kenyan schools for the blind. Although these can be challenging issues for schools that have limited resources, they are not impossible to overcome through partnerships between schools and outside organizations.

This paper reports on the work of inABLE, an organization dedicated to effectively implementing ICT and empowering students with vision impairments through technology. One of inABLE’s primary organizational goals is to establish a technology center in each of Kenya’s schools for the blind that is sustained by sufficient infrastructure, administrative and personnel support, equipment, and curriculum development. In working towards this goal over the last five years, inABLE has deployed and currently manages computer labs at the Thika School for the Blind near Nairobi. inABLE has conducted basic computer skills training with students and teachers and developed a computer training curriculum that could be formally adopted by the Ministry of Education. inABLE’s program involves multiple partners and will eventually cover all eight of the specialized schools for the blind and serve over 2,000 students.

Program Development

inABLE started in 2006 with the goal of creating reading spaces for sighted children in Kenya who did not have access to local libraries or other places to explore books and gain literacy skills. Through this program, inABLE discovered that children with vision impairments also needed greater exposure to reading, but are often left out due to limited availability of text and graphic alternatives such as braille or large-print versions of books. A visit to the Thika School for the Blind led inABLE to establish a library and computer training program at the school that would foster literacy opportunities and broaden access to education in general.

The Thika School for the Blind was opened by the Salvation Army in 1946 and is the oldest of the nine specialized schools serving thousands of Kenyan students with vision impairment (See Figures 1 and 2). There are six primary schools (Standards 1 to 8 or approximately 1st to 8th grade) and three secondary schools (Forms 1 to 4 or approximately 9th to 12th grade). The Thika School is composed of the Primary School with over 280 students enrolled and the Secondary School with over 270. Students at both schools attend in trimesters, with a break every fourth month (in April, August, and December). All of these students live in dormitories on the school grounds and may leave during break months. The students range in age from four to 33 years and some have additional disabilities such as motor, speech, cognitive, and hearing impairments. Recently, the Secondary School was designated a national school which enables them to compete for candidates who score highly on the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam. This makes it possible for students without vision impairments to also enroll at Thika.

Over fifty teachers with and without vision impairments teach the students in all areas of the curriculum including math, science, English, and Kiswahili. Students use a variety of basic assistive technologies and adaptive strategies in these classes including magnifiers, Perkins Braillers, abacuses, and raised tactile graphics. In general, traditional assistive technologies requiring batteries or electricity such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) devices or talking calculators are not used in the classrooms due to limited resources. The introduction of computers at Thika has significant potential to change educational content interactions between teachers and students.

Fundraising and Partnerships

Fundraising for the Thika Primary School for the Blind computer training program began in 2008, with a donation of $100 to purchase a used computer. The initial goal was to purchase a total of 30 refurbished computers with the appropriate hardware and software to support students with vision impairments including screen magnification and screen reader applications, as well as headphones and speakers. These equipment costs were largely covered through individual contributions and support through Coca Cola Sabco. The school provided a building for the computer lab, but it required electrical and Internet wiring, roof repairs, and installation of secure windows and doors that were funded by inABLE. The school also lent basic furniture to serve as computer desks and storage for the program. Internet service via satellite was donated through a partnership with Access Kenya LTD. The computer equipment was covered by a one-year warranty supplied through Computers for Schools Kenya and insurance coverage purchased by inABLE.

While the equipment and infrastructure for the computer training program were being organized, inABLE lobbied the Kenyan Ministry of Education, the Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE), and other government stakeholders to recognize the critical benefits of technology and encouraged them to partner with inABLE in bringing technology into schools for children with vision impairments. As the Thika program progressed into a bigger project, inABLE recognized the importance of collaborative relationships built on shared goals and long-range plans with governmental educational agencies, including the Ministry of Education. inABLE continues to advocate within existing and potential partnerships for the digitization of educational content in accessible formats and integration of technology in education for students with vision impairments. They are currently working with their educational partners to have inABLE acknowledged as the primary organization for implementing technology in the nine schools for the blind. Other plans include strategizing with the Ministry of Education on efforts to train teachers to use computers and ways to provide time in the academic schedule for students to take computer training classes.

Corporations in the private sector have been involved throughout the life of the project and are seen as a major component of sustainability. Early on in the project, inABLE worked on developing partnerships with Safaricom Foundation, Microsoft, Ai Squared, Cisco Academy, and All for Africa to raise funds and plan for program longevity. Various groups have provided support over the years and inABLE will continue to carry out activities that attract and provide opportunities for businesses to become involved in inABLE’s vision. Building a fundraising network is crucial for the project’s continued success and requires awareness within all levels of the business community. Events co-hosted by inABLE and corporate partners can facilitate reaching out to small and large-scale businesses to promote the benefits of providing computer training for students with vision impairments.

A research partnership was developed with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta to explore students’ technology needs and evaluate the impacts of technology on academic and psychosocial wellbeing. Researchers visited Kenya with inABLE in 2010, made trips to several specialized and integrated school settings (including Thika), and met with members from local and national organizations relevant to the education of students with vision impairments. A research agenda that addresses the interests of Georgia Tech and inABLE was formed as a result of the visit. This agenda is primarily focused on how ICT can best be used to support students in math and science with an emphasis on alternative access or universally designed strategies and activities. This university-led research also includes faculty from Kenyatta University in Nairobi.

Program Personnel

The inABLE computer training program would not be possible without the dedicated staff members who manage the labs, teach the classes, support the teachers, and mentor new instructors. As previously mentioned, the need for qualified personnel is a chronic issue with ICT programs and has been the primary cause of the previously unsuccessful computer labs at the schools for the blind. inABLE has tackled this issue directly by focusing heavily on trained staff members as a non-negotiable component of their computer training program.

When the program began, inABLE immediately hired one staff member from Kenyatta University who was experienced in teaching computer classes. This person became the lab manager and was in charge of the development of the lab space and class content. The need for additional instructors led inABLE to conduct a training program in August of 2009 to prepare a pool of potential staff members. This first training was attended by 10 people who had at least basic computer literacy skills and an interest in learning about teaching computer classes to students who had vision impairments. One trainee had heard about the opportunity on a radio program and showed up at the Thika School to get enrolled in the training because he believed it was such an important project. Two staff members were hired after this training to be instructors for that school year and have continued with the program. Over the past year, another member from this initial group was brought on as an instructor and two other instructors have been hired.

The program currently has a total of five instructors for the Thika schools. Instructors go through on-the-job training during the first six months of their employment to learn more about working with students who have vision impairments and assistive technology software. They cannot teach a class on their own until after this training is completed to ensure that they have the necessary skills to manage a class independently. They are expected to maintain current knowledge and generally conduct their own professional development. The plan is that these instructors will be sufficiently trained through their experiences at Thika to be deployed to the other seven schools for the blind as program managers. They would be in charge of supervising the computer labs and training curriculum, as well as building capacity within classroom teachers and training new computer instructors at their respective schools.

The long-term goal is to develop policy-based strategies for sustaining qualified personnel in computer training programs since instructors are an ongoing operational cost that requires a stable funding source. One potential mechanism for addressing this issue is to work with the Ministry of Education to have computer training recognized as a formal subject within the national curriculum. This would make it possible for classroom teachers to teach a computer course as part of their required course load. Consequently, computer training would be supported by national resources and likely lead to a broader pool of instructors.

Computer Labs

inABLE currently manages four computer labs at the Thika Primary and Secondary Schools, with two at each of the schools. The first computer lab opened at the Primary School in July 2009 and began a training program to initially serve over 250 students and 21 teachers. The main lab at the Primary School has 30 computers connected to three servers and is used for a majority of the computer program training activities. The second lab has 14 computers and can be used by students who are younger than Standard 3 (approximately 3rd grade or age 9) or have specialized needs due to multiple impairments or learning issues.

The program at Thika Secondary started in July 2012 to train over 250 students and nearly 35 teachers. Since the school has recently begun to admit students without vision impairments, the computer program will train students with all levels of vision ability. There are 25 computers in each of the school’s two labs and the lab staff plan to examine portable computer options such as laptops or netbooks and computer carts to enable mobility beyond the lab spaces.

The lab computers have a variety of software programs installed including the Windows XP or 7 operating system, Microsoft Office, NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reader, and ZoomText screen magnification. Each computer also has headphones, a standard keyboard and mouse device, Internet access via satellite, and a connection to an uninterrupted power supply battery backup system. Students sit at wooden tables and chairs when using the computers, often sharing with their classmates during structured and unstructured activities (See Figure 3). Students have little space at the computer desks to take notes during class sessions as many of them use a Perkins Brailler, slate and stylus, or need to get close to the paper to handwrite in large print. Few students use the computer for note taking since the labs do not have a standard or braille printer for them to print their notes for reading later.

At least five of the other schools for the blind have computers that have been furnished by organizations other than inABLE. The inABLE staff have been conducting assessments of these labs in order to understand the resources that are available and determine the additional resources that would be needed to replicate the Thika program. They have found that a few of these schools have desktop systems in a room designated as lab space and one has access to laptop computers. The computers all have basic software installed including a screen reader program (JAWS or NVDA). Regrettably, the staff has learned that despite being fortunate to attend a school with computer equipment, most of the students at these schools have not been able to use the computers. The primary reason for this disuse is the lack of trained personnel who could teach the students and teachers how to use the computers. At one of the schools, the computer lab was closed; in another, only the sighted teachers and students are allowed to use the computers. Other issues that have been reported to the staff include lack of appropriate space and infrastructure, shortage of computer systems to train large numbers of students, and not enough personnel to support a program.

Computer Training Program

The Thika computer training program began by training teachers at the Primary School during the school holiday in August 2009, with student training starting after classes reconvened in September of that year. Formal computer training is now offered to all students and teachers at both schools. The staff in the labs provides structured lessons to the primary students throughout the school day in word processing and general computer literacy in 35-minute sessions on Monday through Friday. However, classes at the Secondary School are conducted from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. because the students’ day schedules are filled with subjects that they must take in order to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam. Currently, computer skills are only part of the formal curriculum for sighted students and are not part of an exam subject on the KCSE. Secondary students must take computer training in addition to their regular course load. Students can also access the labs on the weekends to do homework or pursue personal interests including Facebook, Skype, YouTube, news sites, games, email, and word processing. Some students have learned to blog, create their own web pages using HTML, and program computer applications.

The computer training staff members admit that one of the greatest challenges is the lack of a formal curriculum for computer training that has been designed and evaluated based on pedagogical research. The general academic curriculum for all schools is set by the Kenya Curriculum Development Institute (KCDI). This curriculum does not currently mandate training in computers for those with vision impairments. As a result, computer literacy is considered extra-curricular by the KISE at this time and little work has been done to develop a formal curriculum in ICT (Gakuu et al., 2009). However, it is important to note that the Ministry of Education launched the National ICT Innovation and Integration Center in August of 2011 in an effort to develop and evaluate “pedagogic-didactic aspects of ICT integration” in education (National ICT Innovation and Integration Center, n.d.). It is anticipated that this center will help develop a formal curriculum for computer training in schools and hopefully, prioritize efforts to account for the needs of students with vision impairments.

In the absence of a formal curriculum for computer training, the inABLE program staff members at Thika have developed their own training resources. These are based on their experiences and expertise and are informed by materials they have found online from other organizations and educational institutions. Since the majority of these online materials have been designed to meet the needs of learners without vision impairments, the program staff has had to adapt the information to meet the needs of the students and teachers at the Thika School. Before any website or software application is introduced in training activities, staff members test them to determine whether they function correctly with the lab’s screen reader and magnification programs and whether any keyboard shortcuts can be substituted for mouse or menu commands.

inABLE’s training curriculum is divided into modules that include introductions to computers, Windows XP, Microsoft Word and Excel, NVDA, and the Internet. Students follow a sequential path through the modules, beginning with a basic overview of computer hardware and software. The Internet module is taught after the core operating system, word processing, spreadsheet, and screen reader/magnification modules because the program staff has found that students get less focused and more difficult to keep on task when learning about the Internet. Additional modules such as Facebook and HTML coding are taught as dictated by interest and importance (See Figure 4). All teachers and students are currently taught through one set of modules. But there are plans to add suggested modifications to meet the needs of learners who have difficulty with the standard modules or who are younger and need simplified training.

Before beginning the computer training program, students are interviewed by the staff to better understand individual needs and interest in computers. Staff also review students’ individualized education plan (IEP) to see if there are strategies or devices that can be used by the student to support his/her academics (such as hand over hand assistance or a magnifying lens). However, not every student has an IEP. Much like in the US, it can be difficult to identify, document, and implement solutions that will best meet the student’s needs since there are personnel shortages and minimal financial resources to facilitate the IEP. Additionally, students are not pretested to evaluate their skills and verify the level in the program at which they should start. Therefore, the process of developing personalized learning objectives for each student in the computer training program is challenging and could be improved.

Student progress is tracked through the computer training program using Continuous Assessment Tests (CATs) that the inABLE staff has designed, based on the information they are teaching. These tests are specific to each module and administered on the computer so that the students can utilize the appropriate software to read and respond to the questions. The tests combine a technical or theoretical portion that is worth 30% of the total score and a practical component that accounts for the remaining 70%. They are conducted at the end of each module and are customized to meet the level and capability of the student. Test performance is not used to decide whether a student can move on to the next module. But is instead used to identify problem areas for particular students and help determine who may need a referral for initiation of or modification to an individualized education plan (IEP).

In addition to the materials and content being created by inABLE staff for general computer training, the program is interested in leveraging and modifying more advanced training resources to better prepare students for computer-related jobs. In 2012, inABLE partnered with Cisco Networking Academy to pilot test an online training course for students with vision impairments. Two blind and two sighted teachers at Thika enrolled in Cisco’s IT Essentials: PC Hardware and Software course to help determine: 1) the feasibility of offering the course to students with vision impairments; 2) potential best practices; and 3) the length of time that students with vision impairment would need to complete the course. The pilot test revealed several challenges for students with vision impairments including content layout issues that affected screen reader function, images and diagrams that were not described, and hands-on lab activities that might be difficult for students to complete independently. Despite these difficulties, three of the four teachers (two sighted, one blind) completed the course. inABLE hopes to incorporate the course into their computer training program in the future, along with other professional certification courses.

Challenges and Future Needs

During the first four years of the project, the inABLE staff members have experienced several challenges that have helped to define future directions for fundraising and partnerships, computer labs, and the computer training program. Some of these challenges have resulted in changes to the program and revision of program goals, while others have resulted in new projects and networking opportunities.

Fundraising and Partnerships

Identifying potential partners has not been a significant challenge. The premise behind the overall project is attractive to businesses and organizations that recognize the societal benefits of computer training for students with vision impairments. They acknowledge the exponential growth of ICT in Kenya and the need to train future workers. However, converting their interests into actual partnerships has been a slow process. In most cases, it is necessary to remain in frequent contact with partners to keep them engaged which can be time consuming and requires diligence.

In seeking funding through grants, inABLE has learned that many organizations to which they applied were not willing to fund a computer training program as a seed project and that they would need an established program that could be replicated or improved upon. They also found that most organizations would fund hardware, but would not provide funding for personnel or connectivity fees, as those are generally considered operational costs. These funding conditions are partially responsible for some of the dormant labs in the other schools for the blind. Coordinating with research and educational partners, such as Georgia Tech, brings in the expertise needed to apply for research funding that is more likely to allow for personnel and connectivity expenses. However, inABLE has discovered that this can be a slow process due to university procedures and the time it takes to craft and submit a research proposal. For the program at Thika to have continued success and for the overall project to grow, inABLE will need to acquire support through a combination of grants and other funding opportunities that cover personnel, connectivity, computers, and other costs.

Computer Labs: Upgrades and Maintenance

The labs at Thika are situated in buildings that have been upgraded to support electrical, Internet, and security requirements and will need ongoing maintenance to ensure that the labs are safe and running properly. Although the labs have not been vandalized or broken into, the school has experienced thefts. The inABLE team has been proactive against these threats by installing an alarm system in one of the computer labs and adding an insurance policy to cover the equipment in the labs at both Thika schools.

The furniture in the labs has improved over the years and although it affords sturdy work surfaces, it is not sufficient for supporting appropriate ergonomics in children and adults of different sizes and postural needs. The height of the tables and chairs cannot be easily adjusted for various users and students using wheelchairs have difficulty getting under the tables. All of the tables in both labs are used for the computers, with most of the computers sitting side by side with little room for sharing or additional workspace for note taking. Future needs include furniture that is more supportive of a variety of users and tasks, while providing enough space for mobility navigation.

The existing computer hardware and software meet the basic needs of the students and teachers, but could be improved to evolve with their changing skills. For example, as students begin to collaborate with each other or need to access network resources such as printers, the lab equipment and software will need to be upgraded. Furthermore, some students are not able to use a typical keyboard and mouse because they have difficulty using their hands or fingers. The program needs to find resources to accommodate these students through assistive technologies such as specialized keyboards, mouse alternatives, or voice recognition. The lab staff is also interested in identifying alternative power sources beyond the uninterrupted power supply devices they currently use. These devices are primarily used during the frequent power outages, but are costly and have a limited battery backup. With an alternative source such as solar power, they could generate more reliable and less costly electricity for the lab.

Computer Training Program Evolution

The computer training program staff has recognized issues involving curriculum, student interest, specialized needs, and teacher support. Program content and materials have been developed and modified through an iterative process that has resulted in a more informed curriculum. Much of this curriculum is the result of trial and error in daily practice since the staff does not have much expertise in pedagogical framing and methods. This has made formalizing the curriculum a longer process. The staff has also found that there is a need to identify success metrics that can be used to assess student progress. The lack of a good system for tracking student achievement has hindered being able to document the success of the program in a quantifiable manner. This evidence would be useful in demonstrating benefits to existing and potential funders.

Program components have evolved as emphasis has shifted from a focus on mostly teaching basic computer literacy skills to offering more advanced training opportunities for students who have mastered the basics. Students who have matured in their skills have moved on to learning about webpage design and programming which means that program staff will need the knowledge to engage students at higher training levels. With computer classes from morning until evening, it is often difficult for staff to find time to expand their professional skills.

As students have now been involved in computer training for four years, the staff has noticed issues related to interest and attention. Although students enjoy coming to the computer lab and will work during structured class time, some students don’t want to bring their notebooks or won’t take notes during class. This can make it difficult for them to complete assignments and pass exams. Staff members believe that this may be partly due to the lack of table space for note taking and other reasons such as not taking the class seriously. This is an issue that the staff has addressed through table space management and classroom expectations. When computer training is recognized as a formal subject that is included on the national exams, students will be more likely to treat it as an academic pursuit equivalent to their other subjects.

Another specific concern is that initially the female students were less interested in the program, with some preferring to go back to their dorms or watch television instead of going to the lab. Staff members have worked with female students to encourage them and demonstrate the value of computer training. They have seen positive changes in the students’ attitudes towards the training program and now have fewer females missing classes. The problem of female student interest in computer training is not uncommon as it has been comprehensively documented in many other countries, including the United States. However, as the program grows, it will be important to continue to aggressively work with the female students to understand their perceptions and determine ways to make computer training more attractive to them.

While all of the students at the Thika Primary School for the Blind have vision impairment, some students also have other impairments that impact their access to computers and performance in the computer training program. These students may have motor, cognitive, hearing, or tactile issues. The lab does not have all of the additional equipment and software to adequately serve these students. Furthermore, the lab staff is less familiar with how to train these students or adapt the current curriculum to meet their needs. More resources will be required to make sure that these students receive equal access to the program.

Some teachers at the school have also been involved by taking classes and being supportive of the training program. The lab staff offers courses or individualized training for the teachers during school breaks or after hours. Teachers are encouraged to attend, but may decide not to go to the classes. Their level of interest could be a reflection of the perception that computer training is additional work beyond their job responsibilities. This could also be a sign that some teachers are not convinced of the usefulness of ICT or of the program. inABLE has approached KISE to determine how best to inspire teachers to engage in computer training and have an interest in using technology for their classes. These observations are symptoms of systems change that are expected to occur and will likely take time to overcome. Clearly, teacher engagement will need to be better understood as the program continues at Thika and prepares to roll out at other schools.

Summary

inABLE has established a solid foundation for providing computer training to students at the schools for the blind in Kenya. They have successfully developed partnerships and generated funding to provide lab space, computer equipment, trained personnel, connectivity, and a training curriculum. As this project continues and expands, there will be profound changes in the students at the schools and the larger social context. It is anticipated that students will experience a “broadening of horizons” as they gain access to information about the wider world. It is also expected that they will gain increases in self-confidence, greater career aspirations, expectations for further education, employment, and entertainment options, as well as deeper integration into the Kenyan society. This project creates the potential for students with vision impairments to access the same courses and achievement levels as their sighted peers. The project could also make it possible for students with vision impairments who cannot travel or afford to go to school to access education from their home. The results of this project will drive policy and curriculum changes in Kenya, which should lead to a cycle of positive feedback in the education of blind and low vision students. Assuming it is a successful project, inABLE will look to expand the effort both within and beyond Africa. They also hope that many of the outcomes of this project will inform the evolution of ICT and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in countries such as the U.S. where, despite an overall higher level of education, there remain major challenges for students and workers with vision impairments.

References

Dolphin Computer Access. (2007, May 8). Sightsavers takes the Dolphin Pen to Africa [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.yourdolphin.com/newsitem.asp?=176

Gakuu, C. M., Kidombo, H. J., Bowa, O., Ndiritu, A., Mwangi, A., & Gikonoyo, N. (2009). ITCs in education in Africa: Kenya Report. Retrieved from http://www.ernwaca.org/panaf/pdf/phase-1/Kenya-PanAf_Report.pdf

Government of Kenya, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2005). ITC in education options paper. Retrieved from http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNADI898.pdf

National ICT Innovation and Integration Centre. (n.d.). The National ICT Innovation and Integration Centre. Retrieved from http://www.ni3c.net/

Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Education. (2006). National Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Retrieved from http://nepadkenya.org/documents/MOE-ICT%20in%20Education.pdf

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/education-for-all

Figure 1. Sign outside of the Thika School that says, “The Salvation Army Thika Primary School for the Blind. Motto: Success is our major goal. Disability is not inability. PO Box 80 Thika. Telephone: 067-21691”.

Figure 1. Sign outside of the Thika School that says, “The Salvation Army Thika Primary School for the Blind. Motto: Success is our major goal. Disability is not inability. PO Box 80 Thika. Telephone: 067-21691”.

Figure 2. The vision and mission statement painted on the wall outside of the Thika School’s entrance. It says, “Vision: A centre of provision of quality education to the visually impaired learners. Mission: To provide education to the visually impaired to enable them to be independent and be able to cope with the sighted world as well as being useful and productive to society”.

Figure 2. The vision and mission statement painted on the wall outside of the Thika School’s entrance. It says, “Vision: A centre of provision of quality education to the visually impaired learners. Mission: To provide education to the visually impaired to enable them to be independent and be able to cope with the sighted world as well as being useful and productive to society”.

Figure 3. Computer lab work stations at the Thika Primary School. A line of 14 computers sitting on a long table with chairs in front of each screen.

Figure 3. Computer lab work stations at the Thika Primary School. A line of 14 computers sitting on a long table with chairs in front of each screen.

Figure 4. Student with low vision working on web page development. He is wearing headphones and sitting in front of a computer screen with magnified text.

Figure 4. Student with low vision working on web page development. He is wearing headphones and sitting in front of a computer screen with magnified text.


The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research is copyright (c) 2014 to the National Federation of the Blind.