Meet Suraj. He is eight years old and in the third standard at the School for Blind Boys in Bhosari, a suburb of Pune, in the Maharashtra state of India. He is passionate about playing cricket and chess and wants to have an elephant for a pet.
His father, Hanumanta Jadav, is a farmer in the district of Beed, an eight-hour drive from Pune. His mother, Sudamati, also helps on the small farm. Suraj has two older sisters and one younger brother who are all studying in the school in the local village.
The School for Blind Boys is one of four boarding schools participating in a project funded by a grant from All Children Reading that aims to improve the literacy of visually-impaired children in India. Benetech, World Vision, USAID, and other partners are leveraging their combined expertise with technology to add human-narrated audio capabilities to Bookshare, the world’s largest digital accessible library and Benetech’s flagship Global Literacy initiative. Primary school students who are blind or have low vision have been provided accessible educational content that they can listen to on low-cost audio devices while they simultaneously read braille. The primary goal of the project is to teach the students to read in their native language (Marathi) that is spoken at home.
The schools chosen for the project had less than ten percent of the students reading at grade level. Before the project started, the students were only being read to fifteen minutes per week over a loudspeaker. Since then, the students are reading at least fifteen minutes per day including braille instruction in Marathi. During these reading times, the students use a Play Plex device to listen to audio recordings in Marathi while they follow along in their braille story books.
In addition, a “Story Auntie/Uncle” visits the schools twice a week to read to students for about an hour in each class. The goal is to increase reading levels overall. In February, 2017, evaluators will visit the four schools to assess the children’s progress.
Suraj’s teacher, Mr. Panchal, has noted that Suraj’s use of braille has improved significantly since the project started. As a result, his reading speed has increased and he loves the stories that are now available to him. His favorite story from the first book is “My Family.” When asked why he liked this particular story, he said he never realized that a family could have so many people.
Suraj says the best things about the school are his teachers and his friends. He says proudly that he has more friends in school than back home in the village.
We are grateful to the teachers and administrators at the schools in Pune who are making a difference in the students’ lives. Suraj and his classmates are making tremendous progress academically and exhibiting increased confidence and self-esteem.