Is blindness a barrier to becoming a good teacher? KAREN CHAPMAN and HARIATI AZIZAN speak to a few visually impaired teachers to find out how they cope.
The Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) says yes. According to its records, there are up to 100 blind teachers in the country, attached to either special schools or national schools.
However, recently, a few blind teacher hopefuls found their ambitions dashed by the Education Ministry due to its inability to prepare the qualifying test, MTeST, in Braille.
It was reported by The Star that two visually-impaired applicants were informed by the ministry that they were no longer recruiting blind teachers as they had not performed well as teachers in the past. Although this was later explained by the ministry as a “miscommunication”, it highlighted the continuing quandary of the disabled in the employment market.
“This is definitely not the case and if there is an officer in my ministry who said that, let me stress that he does not represent the ministry's view and he definitely does not represent me. We have addressed the problem as fast as we could as the ministry does not overlook its responsibility to those with disabilities,” stressed Education Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
Consequently, the blind candidates who applied for entry into the Education Ministry's Postgraduate Teacher Training Course (KPLI) will be exempted from sitting for the qualifying test this year, and are required to attend interviews instead. Hishammuddin also gave an assurance that the MTeST would be prepared in Braille for blind students by next year.
Echoing this is education director-general Tan Sri Abdul Rafie Mahat who adds that the ministry is willing to spend extra to include the blind in the education field, “We are a caring society. However, people would have to understand that it is going to take time and a lot of money.”
MAB president Prof Datuk Dr Ismail Md Salleh argues that blind teachers have a lot to offer and their potential should not be wasted. “For example, we have a record of a history teacher whose students all got As. He is now an acting principal or already a principal of a school. I don't deny that there are the blind that went into teaching without the right attitude and aptitude, so this has led to a negative perception among parents.”
One of the difficulties that blind teachers face is marking of papers and preparing learning materials. For this, shares Prof Ismail, the blind teachers would require the help of an assistant. He has proposed that an allowance be provided for these teachers to hire an “aide”.
“I have suggested to the ministry to provide a RM400 allowance to allow these teachers to hire resource aides. At the moment, those earning less than RM700 can get a RM200 disability allowance from the government. This is quite common all around the world. In UK for example, it is called access allowance, as the government provides a small stipend to help the disabled be independent and lead more normal lives. I have proposed that a similar scheme be created for blind teachers here,” he adds.
Another problem arising from having a blind teacher is class control.
“Blind teachers obviously cannot be posted to primary schools. Secondary schools are more suitable, with Form Six and Form Four as the ideal classes as the students would be more mature,” notes Prof Ismail.
According to him, MAB spends about RM4mil a year, the bulk of which goes to training and education for the blind.
“The government supports only 18% of that. The funding is also sporadic as there are too many ministries handling the disabled. The rest comes from donations and charity,” he says.
Not blind friendly
He adds that both the school and office environments are currently not blind friendly. The blind, for example, need computers with a “screen reader” that uses a voice synthesiser through a special blind software. For this, says Prof Ismail, incentives can be provided to employers to equip their offices.
As he points out, the government stipulated that 1% of jobs in the public sector would be reserved for people with disabilities, a move which was proposed to the private sector in 1990. However, this has not seen a great influx of disabled into the employment scene.
The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) concurs.
“We have no records of blind teachers failing in the profession or having a bad academic record. There are various characteristics of a good teacher, and whether you are blind or not has no bearing,” says NUTP president Ismail Nihat.
He adds that schools would need to change many things to make them more blind friendly. “But it will be worth it as there are many blind teachers who are good in their work. We need to give them a chance.”
A principal from Perak, however, concedes that there was a case in his school of a blind teacher who performed poorly.
“It became a problem to the whole school. The other teachers had to cover for him.”
The principal, who is also an NUTP exco member, adds that blind teachers find it difficult to teach most subjects like Science and Mathematics as well as those that require a lot of marking like English and Bahasa Malaysia.
“They can only teach orally, they can't use the blackboard. Most parents do not want them to teach core subjects or examination classes, so what subjects can they teach?” he argues.
The teacher, he adds, ended up teaching elective subjects like Moral Education.
“He had a bad attitude and was a discipline problem too,” he says. Needless to say, the said teacher has since been “released.”
A supervisor of the Integrated programme at a school in the Klang Valley, however, begs to differ.
“I have been a supervisor for blind students and teachers for more than five years and I believe that they need the opportunity to prove themselves.”
According to the teacher, the blind can teach reading subjects like History, Geography, Economics and General Studies (Pengajian Am).
She adds that it is imperative that the school understands the teachers' condition and show them support. “They have limitations, so there are subjects that they can't teach, or maybe there are classes that you know they cannot manage.
“The school then has to ensure that their needs here are met while the other teachers must help to look out for them too. If we don’t give them a chance, who will?”
Note: Anyone who would like to donate money or volunteer their services to MAB can reach the association at tel: 03-22722677.