By Juliano Oliveira
For the past seven years, Melissa Fanshawe, education researcher of University of Southern Queensland, has been investigating how to turn the mainstream schooling experience more inclusive for students with vision impairment.
A new national curriculum in which subjects as assistive technology, sensory efficiency, and orientation and mobility would be taught to these students.
The hard work may be promptly compensated. A new educational method might start as soon as July and be accredited and rolled out in schools across Australia by 2022.
“Schools and classrooms are built for students who can see, but unfortunately not all schools are aware of simple measures that can be adopted to meet the needs of students with a vision impairment,” said Ms Fanshawe, a former principal who has worked closely with many blind and low vision students.
Supported by Vision Australia and the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment, Ms Fanshawe is involved in developing the new curriculum.
About 3000 school-aged children in Australia have a vision impairment – 300 of which have a severe vision impairment or are blind – but these students are generally educated in mainstream schools, sometimes with little support.
“Technology has made it easier for these students to learn, but things take longer to access for students who use braille and assistive technologies, and they are expected to do this and complete their tasks in the same amount of time.”
Ms Fanshawe believed students with vision impairment need to be exposed to the ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum), which requires explicit teaching to students with vision impairment to compensate for skills sighted peers gain incidentally by observing others and their environment.
“Research shows that older adults who have been explicitly taught skills of the ECC experience positive career and life outcomes,” she said.
“A standardised national curriculum that centres on the ECC and the unique needs of students with no or low vision will enable schools and teachers to be aware of adjustments that can be easily made to access the curriculum.”
Ms Fanshawe said the new curriculum would also give students with a vision impairment the opportunity to learn the ECC so they had a clear understanding of their goals and a greater scope for developing skills that are necessary for tertiary education and employment.
“The goal is to empower students to take an active role in their education and have more independence,” she said.
“Students would also feel a sense of belonging at school, which is paramount to positive education outcomes for students with vision impairment and is critical to their social and cognitive development.”
Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton said parents of children with a vision impairment have long been calling for more support for their children in classrooms.
“Full implementation of the Expanded Core Curriculum is an essential part of ensuring the best possible education for children, leading to greater employment opportunities in later life,” Mr Hooton said.