Blind and vision-impaired students who are falling years behind their peers in mainstream schools will soon have access to specialised education.
The InsightOut Mobile Classroom is a converted campervan with computer technology and furnishings designed for vision-impaired students, which visits schools in regional areas.
The model has been promised $2.4 million from the Victorian State Government to create two new travelling classrooms.
Insight founder Alan Lachman said often students accessing the classroom were four years behind their sighted peers and on a path towards dropping out of high school.
“We look at a child’s level and they might be 12 years old, but have an academic level three or four years behind, and not because they have an intellectual disability,” Mr Lachman said.
“We’re getting kids who are about to transition into high school and the teachers and parents are beginning to realise how far behind the mainstream their kids are.”
Mr Lachman said Insight’s model challenged the “mainstream integration” schooling system— where blind and visually-impaired students work alongside their sighted peers, with the help of a teacher’s aide.
The system replaced specialised education for the blind, which was the model in Victoria until the 1980s.
“The integration [model] is a myth; it’s a myth,” he said.
“The system calls this successful when students simply attend school.
“It’s no secret, but I guess the reason the mainstream doesn’t talk about that is they have no solution to their problem.”
About 500 students across the state receive support from the Statewide Vision Resource Centre, but Mr Lachman said the children are still at a disadvantage to their peers.
A father of a blind student himself, Mr Lachman said for many parents the idea their child needed to attend specialised education was uncomfortable.
“I have theories: there is an aspect of denial, no one wants to talk about why children exit in the early years of high school [and] why they’re being homeschooled when they don’t need to be,” he said.
“My daughter was four years behind (her peers) when she arrived at Insight.
“She didn’t make sense of her environment and her environment didn’t adapt.”
‘It’s hard to keep up’, says student
Bella, a Year 6 student of the mobile classroom, is significantly vision-impaired and falling behind her peers at school.
Her Insight teacher said that until she started attending the mobile classroom earlier this year, Bella had not been taught how to plug her laptop charger into her computer by herself.
Since joining the classroom, Bella had begun to learn to touch-type using a computer program designed for blind students.
“It gives me a chance to do work I don’t get to do in the classroom,” Bella said.
“Sometimes I can’t see stuff the other kids can, so I don’t do the work they do [and] the teachers forget a lot [that I can’t see].”
Bella is one of an estimated 800 blind or vision-impaired students working alongside fully sighted students in mainstream Victorian schools, according to Mr Lachman.
“It’s hard to keep up most of the time,” Bella said.
“Sometimes it’s good to be in the classroom with my friends, but sometimes it’s good to be away from them because it benefits me a bit more, and I can get more help.”