To otivate and attract young children to read, experts say, require beautiful illustrations accompanying scripts or text that are crafted using sounds, intonations, alliterations and rhyming, besides carefully considered theme, context and age appropriateness of the story. However, there is a problem in this with some children.

The problem is with those children who cannot see and those who cannot hear. To be precise, it is as challenging to explain the visual narration of a story book to a visually impaired child as using sounds, intonations, alliterations and rhyming to read a story to a child with hearing impairment.

In an effort so that differently-abled children,  as they are more politely addressed, too can enjoy reading stories the Royal Education Council (former DCRD of Ministry of Education) in collaboration with Save the Children International – Bhutan Country Office, initiated a ‘special reading programme’ that among others,  trained the teachers of Wangsel Institute for hearing impaired children in Drugyel in Paro, and Muenselling Institute in Khaling for visually impaired children  on reading skills and strategies and books management as an offshoot of the reading programme called the Bhutan children’s Book Initiative.

The Bhutan Children’s Book Initiative (BCBI) launched collaboratively by Ministry of education and Save the Children beginning 2014 seeks to enhance children’s access to high quality story books by establishing classroom libraries and training teachers on reading skills and strategies and books management in support of children’s reading. Currently the project was being piloted in schools in Thimphu and Zhemgang.

The Special Reading Programme was also an effort to provide the opportunity for such children to participate in the national reading year.

“We would like to be inclusive in our interventions so we realized the importance of including our hearing and visually impaired children in our reading programme,” said Amber Rai of REC and focal for the BCBI project.

“Our endeavour is to reach the benefit of the programme to all our children, including our differently-abled children,” he added.

The teachers of the two schools or institutes were trained by customizing the training to best suit their classroom situations. For instance, for the teachers of Wangsel institute or the school for the hearing impaired children, the read aloud strategy was better suited as ‘sign-aloud’ with the teachers using signs, palm orientations, facial expressions (sometimes even contortions) miming, gestures and even acting to express a story plot than sounds, intonations, alliterations and rhyming of the read aloud techniques.

Action spoke louder than words as Ugyen, a teacher at Wangsel Institute demonstrated a read (sign) – aloud of a children’s story book. One could not have understood and enjoyed the story better. But the effort required  to read (or sign) the story was tremendous as Ugyen used signs, facial expressions and his talent in acting to express story plots, sounds, and the different characters of the story.

“With limited sign language, we have to adapt and adopt actions,” said a teacher.

The teachers of Muenselling Institute in Khaling for visually impaired children had to transcribe the stories into Braille including the illustrations and other visuals that accompanied the story so that the children could feel the story rather than see it.

“Our children love reading Dzongkha stories,” says Kuenga Chogyal who had been teaching English and now also computers, since 1997 at the Muenselling Institute. “And the reason being they love to sing Dzongkha songs and have read a lot of these songs.”

“You don’t see but you have to do something. So they sing.”

On the other side of the country, children of Wangsel Institute, enjoyed drawing and sports.

The special reading programme translated over 230 children’s stories, in English and Dzongkha, into Braille for children with visual impairment and provided a similar number to hearing impaired children at Wangsel Institute.

There are about 82 hearing impaired children at Wangsel Institute  in Drugyel, Paro, and 26 children with low vision and visual impairment at Muenselling  Institute in Khaling.

Contributed by  Bishal Rai
Save the Children International – Bhutan Country Office