Benetech’s India Team is On Track to Achieve Big Goals for Inclusive Education in 2023By Carrie Motamedi, posted on February 22, 2023
Benetech’s CEO and VP of Programs get firsthand view of innovative program to leverage technology in schools and improve learning opportunities for students with visual impairments
Starting off 2023 with a renewed focus on inclusive education, Benetech’s India-based team, led by Dr. Homiyar Mobedji, hosted CEO Ayan Kishore and VP of Programs, Dr. Lisa Wadors Verne. The team’s international work centers on teaching digital literacy skills to students with visual impairments to foster inclusion and independence using technology. Kishore and Wadors Verne immersed themselves in visiting several schools for the blind and talking to administrators, students, existing partners, and potential partners.
“This trip was incredibly powerful for me,” said Kishore who joined as CEO in 2021. “I’m proud of what we are doing in India and grateful for the hard work our team is putting in there. It was just tremendous to witness that.”
Dr. Wadors Verne Delivers Closing Keynote at India’s First Festival of Inclusion
The DC-based pair started the trip at Purple Fest in Goa, India. The first of its kind, Purple Fest is a unique celebration of diversity and inclusion, hosted by the government to show the dedication to support for persons with disabilities. Dr. Wadors Verne delivered the closing keynote where she gave an overview of Benetech’s work to support digital literacy and stressed the importance and power of inclusion.
“Inclusion is a process,” stated Wadors Verne in her keynote. “In order for inclusion to work it needs to start in each home and local community, and it needs to be supported by schools and workplaces. It needs to be supported by the mainstream technology that we all use. We need to break stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities. And when there are barriers to participation, we need to have open hearts and creative minds to find solutions for these challenges. Inclusion is a wholistic approach. It is a way of life, and it is something that needs to impact the lives of persons with disabilities from baby to adult.”
Benetech also hosted a booth at the conference where they were visited by many Bookshare users who have been featured in the blog. Bookshare, a platform which delivers accessible ebooks and other materials, has opened education and employment opportunities to these users and thousands more. It was also an opportunity to inform attendees about the digital literacy work Benetech is currently doing in India and beyond.
Schools Integrate Tablets and Training to Increase Independence for Blind Students
The highlight of the trip for Dr. Wadors Verne, an expert on special education policy, inclusion, and family and school collaboration, was seeing the schools and understanding how the children are learning and accessing information — including the tools they are using. She noted that local school administrators have prioritized inclusion and believe this is the way of the future. Wadors Verne and Kishore traveled with the India team to several schools for the blind and were pleased to discover that many of them are working toward having their students go to the mainstream schools in their communities.
The government is also helping in this realm by giving tablets to students as young as grade 5. This initiative means that 10-year-olds are getting access to tablets, so that by the time they get to sixth grade, they’re able to use those tablets to read and write. The students learn to take notes (with a keyboard attached to the tablet), do homework, and take tests. The teachers are very excited about this work that Dr. Homiyar and his team are doing. We had a productive conversation with a group of teachers about the benefit of computers, the barriers to use, and the shift from braille to digital media.
“Many of the students who attend these schools for the blind are continuing to university. They’re very knowledgeable when they graduate, but they may not be very skilled because they’re relying on scribes and other aides to help them communicate what they know with digital technology,” said Wadors Verne. “We’re replacing those scribes with technology and empowering the students to type their own responses and demonstrate their knowledge. And we’re starting to see a huge uptick in students who are using computers to take statewide exams. With those technical skills, they have more opportunities for jobs within the country.”
Benetech’s Partnerships Help Students with Disabilities Read and Learn
The trip concluded with meetings with representatives from multilateral and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss alignments around how we think, speak, and act regarding inclusive education. Benetech already has an active engagement with Lavelle Fund for the Blind to incorporate more students and schools across India. The high level of interest in STEM education makes the effort to scale and support math skills in India that much more relevant and time sensitive as Benetech continues to make Bookshare effective and adaptable to the way students use technology to read and learn. Benetech will release its midterm report on initiatives in India to transform schools and connect students to inclusive education later in 2023.
Learn more about Benetech’s partnership with Lavelle Fund for the Blind and its work in India: https://benetech.org/news/press/benetech-lavelle-india-digital-first-education/
Learn more about Bookshare in India at: https://www.facebook.com/BookShareIndia/ or contact the team at: [email protected]