Blind gulu high student excels because of spelling bee competition
By Eden Mic
The blind student, who won in last year’s Uganda Certificate of Examinations, UCE, from Gulu High School, has attributed his success to a Spelling Bee quiz program for the blind and visually impaired students at the school.
Alex Nyeko Osborn, got first grade, with aggregate 23. The third best student who scored aggregate 34, second grade, is also blind.
The spelling Bee Quiz, group revision and holidays program, were introduced during second term of 2017, for the blind and visually impaired students to improve their grades and communication skills.
The initiative is supported by Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, a charity championing education of the blind and visually impaired students at the school.
Nyeko told The Northern Era, that without these initiatives, he would not have been the best student at his school.
“The spelling bee quiz was the best initiative. It has improved my spelling to 95 percent, and while at it, I knew I would do well,” Nyeko said.
“I had lost hope of passing entrepreneurship; but the group revisions helped me memorize,” Nyeko said.
The inability to spell words correctly remains a major limitation to many blind and visually impaired students, consequently affecting their Uganda National Examinations Board, UNEB, results.
The head of the special needs department, Daniel Odoch, explained that the spelling bee quizzes are vital for the blind and visually impaired students, because they use advanced braille, grade II.
When using advanced braille, grade ll, words are abbreviated for quicker typing. For instance, the word ‘knowledge’ is written as K, and pronounced in full.
The word people is written as P, and marked as a full word. Odoch argued that when the blind and visually impaired students engage in spelling competitions, it keeps them in constant interaction with full words, and improves their writing.
Francis Ojukul, the coordinator of the Visual Impairment department at Oysters & Pearls-Uganda, said the spelling bee competition is also making them think fast, and learn the art of public speaking.
In 2017, the commissioner for primary education Mr. Tonny Lusambu announced plans to incorporate spelling bee competitions into the education calendar, to improve literacy levels among primary school learners.
A study by Uwezo indicates that in Uganda, less than two of 10 pupils in the third year of primary school can read or do basic mathematics; and only six out of 10 could have acquired the basic literacy and numeracy skills in primary seven.
This dismal performance by students is irrefutably poorer among students with physical disability such as the blind and deaf, because of inadequate, or lack of assistive devices necessary for them to excel; coupled with few teachers with special needs skills.
During group revisions, the blind and visually impaired students, together with sighted students, answer questions from past national examinations papers.
Teachers say the practice familiarizes the students with questions in external examinations, and lessens the fear and anxiety of such examinations.
Odoch said the group revisions are also helping the students to revise outside their subjects, which increase their general knowledge.
In Uganda blind students do not study subjects like Chemistry, Geography, Biology and Physics; due to lack of access to academic materials such as maps and advanced talking calculators.
The blind and visually impaired students at Gulu High School have for the past six years been given computers, talking calculators and other recording devices for their audio notes by the charity.
The organization also bought texts books, novels and plays for the blind annex department, and scanned them for easy access on their devices or the PC in Job Access with Speech, (JAWS).
JAWS is a computer software used by the blind and visually impaired persons. Using JAWS, notes are fed into a computer and the user only listens to it.
Sandra Washburn, the founder of Oysters & Pearls-Uganda said before the library, blind and visually impaired students handed in their work in braille.
According to Sandra, blind teachers at the annex used to spend the entire end-of-year break transcribing the scripts, hoping that the sighted teachers would then read the typewritten results.
“…many papers went ungraded, and students had incomplete report cards” Sandra said. “Students rarely received any feedback on their work, so they just moved through the year, most times, not knowing if they had understood the concepts well”.
Sandra explained that although some students got decent grades, many lagged, with little chance of passing the obligatory subjects like mathematics, which automatically deprived them of a first grade.
The above challenges failed and demotivated many students, making them give up on striving for better grades.
With these computer devices and revision methods, Sandra explained that the blind and visually impaired students now have timely access to in-class handouts, because the staff of the blind annex can use Duxbury software, to print on the Braille embosser.
The Northern Era has got reports that these developments have led to great improvements in the performance of the blind students at the school.
The blind annex of the school was launched in1986. However, Ali Muzamil, a blind teacher at the school admitted that for more than three decades, no blind or visually impaired student passed in first grade, till five years ago, when the charity started supporting the blind annex.
“The blind and visually impaired students relied on the good will of others to assist them in their research in the library…which was burdensome and unreliable, especially during exam time” Ali said.
In Uganda, education for Persons with Disabilities, PWDs, was started in 1952 by the Colonial Government.
The special needs education services were for a few children with visual, hearing, learning and mobility challenges.
However, PWDs are still sidelined by beliefs and attitudes in society. Consequently, developments in this ‘Special Education’ have been sluggish.
With his fair background and good grade, Nyeko hopes to become an excellent journalist.
“I want to expose the ills in society. I like debating and conversing; a good trait for the profession, “Nyeko said.