The Department of Educational Psychology in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria (UP) has obtained funding to the value of R9 952 000 from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), which will be used to establish a Centre for Visual Impairment Studies, and to develop and implement a teaching qualification specifically aimed at education for visually impaired or blind learners. The funding was obtained as part of a support grant received by the DHET from the European Union.
South Africa's Inclusive Education Policy seeks to create an educational environment in which children with disabilities can be accommodated in appropriate schooling – whether it be at separate special schools, in specially resourced full-service schools, or at local, neighbourhood mainstream schools. According to a report released in July 2016, both special schools and full-service schools in South Africa face many challenges in terms of the rights-based approach to the education of children with disabilities, including a shortage of qualified teachers. This situation is even more severe in rural communities with high levels of poverty and unemployment, with the result that many of these children are denied their right to education.
Prof Ronél Ferreira, Head of the Department of Educational Psychology at UP, says that the new qualification will be developed with a solid foundation in research and will strengthen the Inclusive Education Policy in South African schools through the training of specialised teachers for visually impaired and blind learners. In addition, elective modules on assistive devices and school management may attract the broader market of current or potential school principals, or other stakeholders taking responsibility for implementing the Inclusive Education Policy in the country.
Prof Ferreira will lead the project, supported by Dr Maximus Sefotho, a lecturer in the Department. Other members of the team include Dr Ruth Mampane from the Department of Educational Psychology, Ms Maria Ramaahlo from UP's Disability Unit and Prof Juan Bornman, Director of the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
The team will follow a participatory research approach to obtain baseline data on the needs and expectations of current teachers in both mainstream schools and specialised schools for the blind or visually impaired. The information they obtain will determine the content of the modules to be developed. Following the development phase, the modules will be tested among teachers in the field and refined where necessary.
The proposed programme will follow a distance education approach (blended learning) and will include both contact and online components, which will enable specialist teachers across South Africa, as well as those from neighbouring countries, to access and benefit from further training in this field. The programme will be developed and presented in collaboration with relevant stakeholders from, among others, NGOs and community-based organisations that have expertise in the field of visual impairment.
The team hopes that the new qualification will be ready for its first intake of students by 2020.