The first national curriculum for students with a vision impairment will soon be trialled in schools, as part of a plan to provide equitable access to education for children who are blind or have low vision.
Leading the charge is University of Southern Queensland (USQ) inclusive education researcher Melissa Fanshawe. Her 13-year-old son has a rare genetic vision impairment and she has spent the past seven years researching ways to improve the mainstream schooling experience for students with a vision impairment.
Supported by Vision Australia and the South Pacific Educators in Vision Impairment, Ms Fanshawe is involved in developing the new curriculum, which is expected to be trialled in schools later this year.
About 3000 school-aged children in Australia have a vision impairment – 300 of which have a severe vision impairment or are blind – but these students are generally educated in mainstream schools, sometimes with little support.
Ms Fanshawe is also a former principal who has worked closely with many blind and low vision students. “Schools and classrooms are built for students who can see, but unfortunately not all schools are aware of simple measures that can be adopted to meet the needs of students with a vision impairment,” she said.
“Technology has made it easier for these students to learn, but things take longer to access for students who use braille and assistive technologies, and they are expected to do this and complete their tasks in the same amount of time.”
Ms Fanshawe believes students with a vision impairment need to be exposed to the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), which requires explicit teaching to students with vision impairment to compensate for skills sighted peers gain incidentally by observing others and their environment.
She said although the ECC was first developed in 1996, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves because of factors such as time constraints and a lack of understanding from schools, teachers and families.
“Research shows that older adults who have been explicitly taught skills of the ECC experience positive career and life outcomes,” she said.
“A standardised national curriculum that centres on the ECC and the unique needs of students with no or low vision will enable schools and teachers to be aware of adjustments that can be easily made to access the curriculum.”
Ms Fanshawe added that the new curriculum would also give students with a vision impairment the opportunity to learn the ECC so they had a clear understanding of their goals and a greater scope for developing skills that are necessary for tertiary education and employment. “The goal is to empower students to take an active role in their education and have more independence,” she said.
“Students would also feel a sense of belonging at school, which is paramount to positive education outcomes for students with vision impairment and is critical to their social and cognitive development.”
Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton said parents of children with a vison impairment have long been calling for more support for their children in classrooms.
“Full implementation of the Expanded Core Curriculum is an essential part of ensuring the best possible education for children, leading to greater employment opportunities in later life,” he said.
“Vision Australia is delighted to be working with Ms Fanshawe over the coming years to support this important project.”
Ms Fanshawe said trials for the new curriculum could start as soon as July. She is hoping it will be accredited and rolled out in schools across Australia by 2022.
If you are interested in being involved, or would like more information about the project, please contact Melissa Fanshawe by clicking here.