COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 42 (En Español)
As highlighted in my previous report no. 41, online education and remote learning have its biggest impact on one of the most vulnerable groups: students with visual impairment. In normal times, before the pandemic, these students would integrate their respective school environments with specific tools and would pursue all activities at the same level as other students. However, during the pandemic students with visual impairment require a close follow-up and support from family members, parents or tutors which unfortunately is not always available. Therefore, the learning results and outcomes are not satisfactory and they leave a significant impact in their future education.
In 2018, Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education reported that 7,082 students with visual impairment were given services under the framework of special education. These services include support, school and guidance services. These services were conducted onsite in a traditional classroom setting. The new normal of online learning puts a lot of these students in a position of disadvantage when it comes to the learning process.
Based on the report called “Kids and Teenagers with Impairments” looking at the health emergency to know their opinions, feelings, emotions and wishes, groups of kids and teenagers with visual impairment in particular mentioned that they missed going to school (37%), playing with friends (36%), going shopping (34%), among other aspects which are consequences of social distancing. Based on this information, schools are perceived as the places in which they play, learn, coexist with others and stay for a significant time outside of their homes. In order to continue learning from home, the program “learn at home” does not include the accesible and inclusive characteristics needed for this group of students.
Inclusive Education and COVID-19
Students with visual impairment are currently unprotected, not only because most of them do not have adequate access or connection to the internet, but also because accessing websites, no access to adequate technologies or equipment and the lack of digital skills are major obstacles to their learning process. Furthermore, these students also require a series of support which it’s simply not available at home. Parents’ lack of knowledge when supporting their kids with much needed pedagogical strategies makes it incredibly difficult to talk about a true inclusive education.
As mentioned before, the website of “learn at home” attempts to integrate the concept of inclusive education. Through its website, there is a section for special education which includes information for teachers, parents, resources and materials with activities, workbooks and videos on COVID-19.
Although it’s certainly encouraging the education system’s efforts amid the pandemic, much is still needed to respond to this group’s pressing needs. In particular, more efforts are needed to alleviate students’ fears and hesitancy to use technology to do school activities. Currently, resources are scarce and limited, and some links are not even working. The lack of consistent following and support will exclude these students from a basic education, and will eventually create an even deeper social disparity.
One of the recommendations coming from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is to implement actions integrating all vulnerable groups which would include people with impairments. In the Ministry of Public Education, multiple stakeholders came together to formulate the National Strategy for Inclusive Education in 2019.
The initiatives mentioned in this brief report are a step forward, which will need follow-up and analysis on their outcomes, both negative and positive. Furthermore, these initiatives can’t leave behind other related issues such as internet access and connection, availability of tech equipment and radio and TV coverage. It should also be a priority for the national authorities to incorporate the needs of students with visual impairment in Mexico.