The unprecedented Covid-19 impacts are not only upsetting human health and the country’s economy but also impacting on children’s education. The teaching-learning establishment has witnessed an unparalleled turn in its delivery of lessons and functionality. Efforts are made to:
Ensure the continuity of education to the youth
disseminate positive and,
Educators, Parents and young learners with disabilities are facing considerable challenges to adapt and adjust with the online initiatives towards the continuum of studies catering for the school closures and educational disruption. Global Rainbow Foundation has doubled its efforts to optimize the inclusion of the persons with disabilities during the confinement.
Parental challenges with online platform learning
Amidst the Covid-19 generated chaos, parents are somehow greatly confused and are raising various questions. As parents play an extremely crucial role in accompanying their wards in their educational journeys, they should be made aware of the plausible alterations which may directly or indirectly affect their children’s studies. The parental involvement is mandatory when it concerns any changes that are being carried out in the education system which learning-teaching patterns. Moreover, the dearth of adaptive and assistive technology tools in a country like Mauritius:
makes teaching even more challenging for our young learners with disabilities
adds to the herculean task for parents who are not themselves tech-savvy nor,
do they possess the required training to cater for such learning systems.
For example, in a particular school, a visually impaired student finding herself in a mixed- ability school, must be assisted by a trained teacher to assist her in her learning sessions on the online platforms. During this period, we can only imagine how she is managing!
Therefore, there should be transparency among stakeholders – government, ministries, educationists, parents etc.
Face-to-Face (F2F) to Online
Although new plans have been devised to cater for students, instructors are facing much difficulty in coping with the online teaching trends to provide for the same learning experience and services virtually than in the traditional face-to-face setups. On an international level, the New York City:
is allocating special education teachers to provide “limited services to students with disabilities”
In other words, Education departments and teachers are seizing this pandemic crisis to:
raise disability awareness
optimize to eradicate discrimination and,
act against marginalisation.
Despite the fact that teachers cannot provide same services virtually, they have “new plans such as IEP-(Individual Education Program)” which commanded applause from parents and advocates for the education departments’ initiatives to trigger educational equality. However, during this traumatic phase:
classes are not being provided in a programmed structure due to the lack of adaptive technology tools.
there is the provision for only one teacher at a time instead of two, which might be overburdening the teachers during the lessons delivery.
Children who face struggles are striving at a double rate and are falling further behind.
This gap is widening on a daily basis. Children with disabilities who are used to be accompanied by their respective care-givers at school now will be assisted with their parents at home. Not all children, especially special needs children are close to their parents; they spend most of their time with their care-givers. In spite of these differences, parents are supportive to the Education departments. Implementation of ‘new plans’ are being carried out on how students will receive related services such as counseling, occupational and speech therapy as they used to benefit before.
Home-schooling is a reality now but it comes at some expenses. In Mauritius, the Government has adopted its telecast programs to accommodate the learning of the youth at home. The abrupt unprecedented transition from F2F teaching is complicated for many teachers, who are not familiar with online teaching platforms.
Educators face some challenges on multiple levels:
health hazards (eye strains, migraine, backache etc)
non-adaptability to online platforms (non-tech-savvy teaching professionals)
lack of proper monitoring of students (most teachers are using voice-based applications where they cannot monitor the virtual presence of the learners)
evaluation of assigned tasks (tedious activity) and so many other issues
Moreover, the online platform is not adapted to cater and optimize the educational potentials of the learners with disabilities, who are left out in the online programs.
The educational domain has devised technological strategies to optimize on equal education and to ensure the continuum of the young learning process during this 2020 Pandemic. It is a fact that learning innovations have improved education systems with remarkable developments in technology. In addition, they represent more than a transition for people with disabilities when these innovations are usable, affordable, accessible and open.
With access to assistive technology, it facilitates and encourages the integration and involvement of:
persons with disabilities
elderly communities and
those with non-communicable diseases in particular
The primary purpose of the aid items is to preserve or strengthen the functioning and dignity of the individual, thus fostering their well-being and educational inclusivity. They empower people with disabilities to:
lead a safe, successful, autonomous
enjoy a dignified life and,
engage in education, the labor market and public
Technology has always benefited people with disabilities, such as vision impairment, speech disability, individuals with mobility issues among others. There are a number of devices and tools that can help alleviate the challenges people and students with disabilities face on a regular basis. For instance:
Dot for the blind
Talkitt for people with speech and language disorders
UNI for the deaf using gesture and speech technology, etc.
Moreover, the use of technology in special education has helped to knock down obstacles for people with disabilities and to allow them access to the most important support services. Properly designed software and hardware help students with special needs to access up-to-date education and get any information needed online. As a matter of fact, GRF is working towards the implementation of these assistive tools in its inclusive education for the young with disabilities.
In a rapidly evolving pandemic condition, protecting the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) is essential as they are among the world’s most marginalized and stigmatized groups. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which stipulates that “everyone has the right to education” is duly sustained by Article 24 of the UNCRPD: Protecting the Right to Education for Persons with Disabilities which specifies that:
States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community.To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:
a.) Facilitating the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring,
b.) Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community,
c.) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deaf-blind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.
In line with the statutes mentioned above, GRF recommends:
a) the government should ensure the provision of social support to those with complex disabilities.
b) Sign Language interpretation should be included for televised announcements, so that it can be more accessible to people with different disabilities.
c) Sign Language should be mandatory in the learning phases which ensure the equal rights to education to youth with disabilities.
d) Governments should be considering the special needs of the disabled when developing new strategies, for instance, online learning platforms and homeschooling.
e) A hotline should be provided to people with disabilities to allow them communicate and stay up-to-date as well as ensure their active community involvement through the education system.
f) As the gap has been widening in most countries due to school closures, governments in collaboration with other stakeholders should react quickly and offer distance learning opportunities to students with disabilities too.
The call of today’s educational need is to:
i) maximize on educational inclusivity of young learners with disabilities in Mauritius
ii) provide for online course platforms which are adapted to the educational and learning needs
iii) they should be provided with assistive devices to facilitate their apprenticeship smoothly
iv) the State should cater for different modules adapted to the needs of the learners with disabilities.
Global Rainbow Foundation is optimizing on the implementation of educational platforms, trainers of online and F2F tutors to bridge the educational gap so that education is fair and equal to all.
E-learning is a key tool to compensate for unplanned school closures during this pandemic to help students with disabilities continue their studies. However, parents, students and instructors are experiencing a nightmare as they lack training on how to use and navigate through the online tools. Parents have also complained that they have not been included in the new plans, devised to cater for their children’s academic performance. Despite these drawbacks, several recommendations have been made. Once we have done away with those issues and barriers based on Online Home-Schooling, we can all – students, instructors and parents, find the academic assurance that we seek in the time of COVID-19.
Co-authored by GRF Better Mauritius [Enable Mauritius – Leave No One Behind]
Natasha D. Caulleechurn (Yoga Trainer and Art Therapist)
Sookriti I. Seenarain (Project Officer)
Yesvina Soomien (Intern)
Rishi Ramputty (Education)
Dr Shyama Ramsamy (Editorial Coordinator)
Global Rainbow Foundation