Using technology to create positive learning environments
Pauline Okach is a teacher at Nyasare Primary School in Migori County, Kenya. She is one of 75 teachers who have been taking part in a training programme for the Orbit Reader 20.
The Orbit Reader is an assistive technology device that helps people with visual impairments read and take notes in braille. The programme is part of our innovation initiative. The initiative aims to expand the use of innovative low-cost assistive technology for learners with disabilities. Particularly learners living in rural and under-resourced areas.
How does an Orbit Reader work?
The portable devices are lightweight and operate in two main modes. The stand-alone mode has the capabilities of reading and writing as well as file management for books that are already been translated into electronic braille.
The remote mode allows the reader to be connected to a computer with a screen reader. It has a removable memory card and Bluetooth connectivity. The devices enable children to read and write in braille. The notes can then be converted back to electronic print for the teacher to read and grade.
Why the readers have been essential during the pandemic
Orbit Reader 20 training modules were developed as part of Leonard Cheshire’s Girls’ Education Challenge Transition project. This was so teachers can help their students get the most out of the technology. While the coronavirus pandemic affected schools around the world, we made sure that teachers were still able to take part in the training.
This helped ensure they were ready to support students on their return to school. The training was conducted by Leonard Cheshire staff in partnership with eKitabu. eKitabu developed online training tutorials which were shared via Whatsapp. This gave teachers a great platform to interact with and support each other.
Providing individual support
To ensure progress, teachers received individual follow up calls following each tutorial. The instructors also provided ongoing support. An end-of-training assessment was also carried out to identify any knowledge gaps. This also helped ensure the teachers had access to further support if they needed it.
Pauline works in an integrated mainstream school which accommodates students with and without disabilities. Some of her students have visual impairments, including ten-year-old Marydith.
Pauline already had good knowledge of the importance of inclusive education. She took part in training a few years ago to learn how best to support students with a range of disabilities and needs. Initially, she said her attitude towards disability was negative. But it is much more positive now she has had access to training.
Following the recent Orbit Reader training, Pauline has been supporting Marydith to use the technology in class. Marydith has been using the Orbit Reader to learn the letters of the alphabet in braille. She can also use it to type and delete notes, helping her engage in class.
There have been several other adjustments made at the school. This helps ensure Marydith is fully included. This includes clear, level pathways to help her move more freely around the school. The doorways and steps have been highlighted with yellow or white paint to making them more obvious for her.
There is also an adapted timetable to give Marydith the learning support she needs. She has extra time during lessons to help her use the Orbit Reader. She is also a member of the school’s child to child club. Here she gets to interact with her peers and show them the value of inclusion.
The importance of universal design
Pauline believes that universal design measures, and the introduction of assistive technology, has helped improve inclusion in the school. It’s also changed the attitudes of other students. Before, there was a lot of stigma around disability. Other students felt nervous about being around children with visual impairments.
Now, they have much more awareness and appreciation for disability. They accommodate Marydith and help her move around the school between classes. This has created a positive atmosphere at the school. It’s helped reduce bullying and created a productive learning environment for the students.
The impact of Orbit Readers
The Orbit Readers have also greatly improved Marydith’s learning progress - she can now read and write without straining her eyes. This helps her to succeed in class and stay at the same level as her classmates.
Without assistive devices like the Orbit Readers, children with severe visual impairments would not have the same education opportunities. They may even feel discouraged to attend school. Pauline hopes that more teachers can get access to training on the technology. That way, even more students can benefit from these and other devices.