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Sunday, 17 June 2012

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The Ceylon School for the Blind turns 100

The Ceylon School for the Blind comprising three schools, the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf Ratmalana, and Nuffield School for the Deaf and Blind Kaithady Jaffna, celebrates 100 years of selfless service to the deaf and blind this year. A series of programs have been planned to commemorate the historic event.


Computer assisted teaching

The celebrations commenced with a Centenary Walk held in February where a large number including the Bishop of Colombo participated and a well attended variety entertainment "Siyavasaka Ridmaya" was held at Ladies College. The main centenary celebrations will be held on June 17 at the school premises Ratmalana with a series of events starting with a Service of thanksgiving at 8 a.m. followed by the issue of a special commemoration stamp and an educational, arts and crafts exhibition by the students.

The School for the Deaf and Blind initially started as one school, was founded by Miss Mary Chapman, a missionary belonging to the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS).

In response to her appeal for funds, many well wishers gave donations generously - worthy of mention is the gift of A.J.R. de Soysa who, within hours of the appeal, offered a free site of six acres at Kandawala where the School for the Blind is located. Miss Chapman rented a small building at Dehiwala and started the school in 1912 with just four children; by 1913, it increased to 18 deaf and 6 blind children. In July 1914, the school was shifted to Ratmalana. In 1926 an additional four acres of land adjoining the existing land where the Deaf School is now located was given to the school by Abdul Caffoor.

In 1933 the CEZMS, which hitherto managed the school, decided to hand over the management of the school to the Diocese of Colombo. A Board of Governors, later named the Board of Trustees, with the Bishop as Chairperson, was appointed to manage the school.

In 1945 with the permission of the Education Department the Ratmalana School was divided into two and named as the School for the Deaf and School for the Blind.

The school at Kaithady Jaffna in the Tamil medium started initially with a generous gift from Viscount Nuffield, and just 18 students; it expanded quite rapidly. During the war, the school had to be evacuated to St. John's College. With temporary restoration of peace in 2003, extensive repairs were carried out to school buildings with aid from international aid agencies and the school moved back to Kaithady towards the end of 2004. Since the war ended in 2009, the school has been operating successfully.

All three schools provide 600 students with an education, which follows the syllabus used in government schools.

In addition, food and lodging, healthcare, recreational facilities, and vocational training are provided free of charge. Though managed by the Diocese of Colombo, the students are mostly non-Christians and all facilities are given to them for their religious activities.

The students are taught up to the GCE 'O' Level; while deaf students find it difficult to pass the 'O' Level examination, many in the School for the Blind succeed at the 'O' Levels, and they proceeded to mainstream schools to do their 'A' Levels. Some of them have entered universities and well over 100 have obtained their degrees. There have also been a few who have become lawyers and have found work in various areas.

At the School for the Blind nearly 70 p.c. of the students are partially sighted and have benefited from computer assisted classroom teaching and multi-media techniques. The library is equipped with vision enhancing equipment while the totally blind have to rely on Braille alone.

A Braille printing section has been established, to enable school text-books and other books to be translated to Braille. In the School for the Deaf, classroom teaching employs both sign language and lip reading.

While sign language is effective for communication within the deaf community, it has been found to isolate the hearing-impaired. The school has now introduced Computer Assisted Classroom Teaching and Multimedia techniques.

Vocational training which traditionally included training in fields such as pottery, weaving, basket weaving, sewing, carpentry, printing, hair dressing, and other handicrafts such as patchwork, card making, vegetable carving, need to be updated to include more job oriented skills such as tailoring, computer graphics, modern printing and catering. The school invites the public and private sector participants and stakeholders to help them develop such courses.

As in any other school, sports such as cricket and athletics and other extra-curricular activities are given much emphasis. While inter-house sports activities take place, the children also participate in competitions at zonal, provincial, and national level. Students have even been sent abroad for sports competitions.

Drama and music are very much encouraged. The School for the Blind at Ratmalana and the Blind unit at Kaithady have western and oriental school bands. Music is taught to the students and the students of the Blind School at Ratmalana have even won prizes in Western music and singing competitions.

The students are also taught dancing and drama and dance troupes have been formed in both the Deaf and Blind schools.

The blind students at Ratmalana and Kaithady have produced and held public drama performances. Cubs, Scouts, Little Friends; Guides are very active and participate in rallies at provincial and national levels and give the opportunity for students to interact with others and engage in community service projects

Today there are many schools in the island, modelled on the Ratmalana and Kaithady schools. The deaf and blind are no longer called "disabled", but "differently abled" as they have demonstrated that being handicapped and impaired visually or through hearing deficiencies is no barrier to their development as they have shown their capabilities and talents in different ways.

 

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