Pathfinder Project: New Ways To Access English for Blind Students in Argentina

 

Francisco Ramón Barbarán
Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas de Argentina
e-mail: frbarbaran@yahoo.com.ar
web: www.conicet.gov.ar

 

Guadalupe Eulalia Giroto Requejo
Instituto Salteño de Intercambio Cultural Argentino-Norteamericano
e-mail: guada_greq@hotmail.com
web: www.isicana.org.ar

Abstract: The aim of Project Pathfinder, to be implemented in ISICANA (Salteño Institute of Argentinean-North American Cultural Interchange) is to design an english course in the initial level, with blind teachers (with the help of no blind assistants) for blind students. The methods to offer this course will be based in Internet and multimedia. The experience obtained will be shared through ISICANA´s the web page, to have feedback with others educative communities around the world. On the other hand, the experience include a volunteer staff of professors of English spread around Argentina, who will participate in a forum to help with their own the experience, because some of them taught to blind children in the past. The project will be improved according to monitoring and evaluation of outcomes.

Key Words: Argentina, blind, english, multimedia, internet, teaching.

 

Proyecto Pathfinder: nuevos caminos de acceso al inglés para estudiantes ciegos en Argentina

Resumen: El proyecto Pathfinder propone el diseño de un curso de inglés para ciegos, usando tecnologías multimedia e Internet. Es innovador porque será dictado por profesores ciegos con la ayuda de auxiliares videntes. La experiencia educativa se volcará a una página web donde se abrirá un blog de discusión para obtener retroalimentación con otras comunidades educativas. Incluye un staff  de profesores voluntarios de distintos puntos de Argentina que participarán a través de Internet con aportes y sugerencias para un mejor desarrollo del curso, que será dictado en el primer nivel de inglés en un principio, pero con perspectivas de abarcar todos los cursos que ofrece ISICANA (Instituto Salteño de Intercambio Cultural Argentino-Norteamericano), ubicado en la ciudad de Salta, Argentina. El proyecto será mejorado de acuerdo con los resultados del monitoreo y evaluación de la experiencia.

Palabras clave: Argentina, ciego, inglés, multimedia, internet, enseñanza.

Introduction:

Blind students of English in the Salteño Institute of Argentinean-North American Cultural Interchange (ISICANA) in the Salta Province, Argentina, cannot translate or understand Braille and other teaching materials. Without the appropriate equipment and resources such tasks take many hours of hard work, producing frustration and failure because it is impossible to further one’s learning.

In 2009 a student reached the last year of studies but she was unable to take the Michigan Exam (Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English) because she did not have the needed learning materials in time to prepare. Despite that, blind students ask for tuition in ISICANA, demonstrating a concrete demand for the teaching of English.

Considering that situation, ISICANA contacted the U.S. Embassy Press Office in Buenos Aires, obtaining grants to buy software and a voice digital text scanner, as well as a Braille typing device. ISICANA owns a high-speed Internet connection and functioning computers, but a Braille printer is also necessary to complete all the equipment needed to develop teaching material for this special case.

In Salta there are many institutions devoted to formal education of the blind, but a low socio-economic background prevents some from attaining a higher education. Here, a population of about 130 students aged 5-18 cannot afford necessary English classes.

Proposal

Considering the problem described above and the fact that ISICANA already has most of the equipment to implement English classes for blind students, the proposal is:

  1. The design of English course curriculum for the blind in the Initial Level, using the bibliographic material and equipment donated by the United States Embassy, and adding a Braille printer.
  2. The teacher in charge of this course will be a blind ex-alumnus of ISICANA, with the permanent support of non-blind teachers, whom are already part of the permanent staff of the English school.
  3. Taking into account the low socio-economic level of the blind population in Salta, this project will provide grants to students with economic problems. On the other hand, ISICANA ´s General Manager will approach local companies and gain support through a special grants program to provide opportunities for students in disadvantage.
  4. An affordable tuition will be established for students with capacity to pay for their classes.
  5. The training of two blind teachers as well as two no blind teaching assistants, will be covered by ISICANA.

During the project implementation, blind and no blind teachers will share and communicate current learning and teaching methodologies through ISICANA’s website, which would allow for communication and feedback from other teachers and the academic community. The teachers will develop a blog and forum through the website for the academic community, and will write an academic articles detailing her work in Argentina.

On the other hand, an academic team will follow the project and participate in it through the internet as volunteers. All of the team members received grants to study in USA thanks to the Fulbright Program and most of them are teachers of English. They were recruited through the web, thanks to the State Alumni Network of ex-alumni created by The U.S. Department of State.

The team is composed as follows: Director: Francisco Ramón Barbarán Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program (2008). Team: Ines Carmen Acerbi, Fulbright Administrators Exchange Program (2008 – 2009); Rita Aldorino,  Fulbright Student Program (1999 – 2001); Paula Bello, Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) Program (2010);  Marcela B. Gamallo, Fulbright Student Program (2004 – 2006); Daniel Kirschbaum, Fulbright Student Program (2001 – 2005); Edith Luna Villanueva, Texas Intensive English Program (TIEP) (2008); Cecilia Soledad Vargas, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program (2009 – 2010).

This project was presented for funding to Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund contest in 2012, which is organized financed by the U.S. Department of State.

On the other hand, ISICANA will look funds to support grants.

Location:

The project will be developed in Salta city (N.W. Argentina) in the Salteño Institute of Argentinean-North American Cultural Interchange (ISICANA), that was opened forty years ago. This institute approved this project in a meeting of its Directive Commission in October 2011. ISICANA has been teaching english continuously in Salta for more than forty years. Is a non-profit organization acting as a bi-national center (Argentina-USA) with 1300 students of english language and a strong and continuous relationship with the USA Embassy in Buenos Aires.

Innovation:

ISICANA will be the first bi-national center in Argentina to implement educational services designed specifically for the blind, providing a much-needed service to them. The Initial Level Course of English as a Second Language for blind students will start in April 2013 on the basis of continuing teaching classes along the years, as a part of ISICANA´s permanent academic offer.

Blind people will have complete access to English, so new opportunities for social inclusion will be open for them. Opportunities include but are not limited to better work opportunities and social lives, their own intellectual growth, personal satisfaction, and increased self-confidence.

Four new permanent teaching jobs will be created, and the new teaching strategies will be shared through the Internet, promoting the implementation of similar courses around the world.

The web site to be created, will be keep alive for ever, to share the experience of this project and to offer it as a resource for other institutions with the willingness to open english courses for blind people around the world.

Agreements will be signed with education institutions devoted to the blind, demonstrating that ISICANA is sensitive to social inclusion and thereby creating and offering concrete contributions to disadvantaged students that would better their lives.

Despite the courses to be implemented in the Initial Level, this project can be expanded to all teaching levels in the future, according to the availability of teachers trained in differential learning strategies complemented with Internet and multimedia, optimizing the use of the technology already donated by the U.S. Embassy to ISICANA.

According to well documented experience, most of aid projects in the Third World finish when they run out of money. This project will provide the way to sustain itself through the time, so it is continuity is sustainable in the long term, due to the academic and implementation capacity of the team involved in this project and ISICANA´s institutional prestige in Salta city.

On the other hand, a set of indicators will be defined to make possible the monitoring, evaluation and continuous improvement of this project.

 

NOTES

Presented in part as a conference paper in: ABLA-ELT Conference 2012 Envisioning ELT’s Future Santo Domingo, República Dominicana. November 16-17, 2012.

This article was published on October 17th: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in Global Education Magazine

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