Ever since Namgay Dema completed class VI from Muenselling Institute in Khaling, Trashigang it has been a challenge for her to cope with the lessons at her new school, Jigme Sherubling Central School’s middle campus.

Namgay Dema is a low vision student. The 20-year-old, who studies in class VII, said this was not what she had expected when she graduated from the institute for the visually impaired. “I thought things here would be made conducive for students like me.”

She said understanding lessons that are intended for a general classroom setting was difficult. “Since we cannot see properly, we are unable to figure out what is being written on the board,” she said. “Except for a few subject teachers, many do not know how to use braille, which make the learning process for us even difficult.”

Nima Yangki, another low vision student who is studying in the same class said that since the teachers couldn’t use braille, their notes take time to reach them for reference. 

The notes including answer sheets during examinations are sent to Muenselling Institute where teachers translate the braille notes into ink-print, which is then read by other teachers who do not use braille. 

“Sometimes, it takes months to get back our notes and in the process, we lag behind other students,” said Nima Yangki. “Although we are in the same classroom as the others, we do not function like them. We cannot perform at par with the rest and sometimes we need additional consideration from our teachers.” 

Students completing class VI from the institute have to join the middle campus where they would continue schooling until class VIII. Once the students reach class XI, they join the upper campus until they complete higher secondary school.  

Vice principal with Jigme Sherubling Central School’s middle campus, Tashi said the school has special arrangements for students with special needs such as the push-in and pullout initiatives. 

In a push-in setting, an additional teacher is deployed in a classroom where there are students who require additional assistance. In case the student has acute problems in understanding the lesson, the student is pulled out from the class and given additional assistance.  

Tashi said that since they are one of the schools to have the Special Education Needs (SEN) programme, there are SEN coordinators who look after the special needs students. 

They said considerations are made during examinations for students with special needs. For students who are visually impaired, the school gives them 30 minutes more to complete the paper. In subjects like mathematics and science, questions consisting of diagrams are replaced with other questions. For students with low vision, the font is increased and the use of glasses and lenses are made available.  

“However, shortage of teachers is one of the major challenges we face,” said Tashi. “If we have an adequate number of teachers, we can effectively use the push-in and pullout initiatives.” 

Of the 10 special need students in the middle campus, five are visually impaired. The other five have low vision. 

Principal of Jigme Sherubling Central School upper campus, Jigme Yangtse, said including the differently-abled students, teachers are also facing the same challenges. 

“Our teachers are not fully trained to teach students with special needs and those who were trained are no longer with the school,” said the principal. “However, we are collaborating with Muenselling Institute to address the shortcomings as they are more equipped.”

Jigme Yangtse said that even before the three campuses were put under the same umbrella of Jigme Sherubling Central School in 2013, the three have been working closely to address the need of the students. 

The institute’s principal, Dorji Wangdrup, said that for the want of an inclusive educational system, students completing their education from the institute were required to attend general schools.

“While the idea for integration is good, we want to nurture our students from here at the institute,” he said. “The support systems at the general schools for differently-abled students are not adequate which leaves the students dejected.” 

Dorji Wangdrup said he had requested the institute to be placed directly under the ministry for better access to finance and other necessary supports. 

In July 2015, the institute was decentralised from the dzongkhag administration and put under the central school. “No one discussed the initiative with us. Now, when we ask for funds to procure machinery and resources for the institute, it has to be routed through the central school and the dzongkhag administration.”

The principal said that since the budget ceiling for central schools programmes under the dzongkhag are limited, it is difficult for the institute to function. “Although the number of students here at the institute is less, the expenditure is much more than a regular school.” 

Muenselling Institute was first established in 1973 for visually impaired children. Since then a total of 187 students have been enrolled at the institute. 

Today, there are 31 visually impaired and low vision students at the institute.  

Younten Tshedup | Khaling