«SIMM ® EDUCATION A N D E M P L O Y M E N T OF THE BLIND - THE CASE OF WEST BENGAL Bikas C. Sanyal, P. K. Giri, M. Roychowdhury, A. K. Pati,. ...»
man named Mr. Garthet Wet came in contact with Rev. Lalbehari Shah and Sri Ramananda Chatterjee, the Editor of Modern Review. Whether the establishment of two schools in different corners of India, or the contact with Garthet Wet had any influence on Lalbehari Shah in starting a school in Bengal in 1894, we do not know for certain. We know so far that both Lalbehari and Ramananda learnt braille from Garthet Wet - Ramananda out of intellectual curiosity and Lalbehari out of necessity to teach his first students.
Lalbehari started the school (the Calcutta Blind School) with three adolescent boys in his own house. That was done not for providing them with a home but for the expressed aim of teaching the blind. He prepared himself for this task beforehand by learning English braille from Garthet.
He used his knowledge to invent a Bengali Braille Code, which later came to be known as Shah Braille« But a little before that, Ramananda Chatterjee discussed the possibility of producing Bengali Braille in his Modern Review and published an article on Bengali Braille in a periodical named Dassi (1897), which came to be known as Chatter jee Code«, In 1944, a Committee was set up by the Government of India under the Chairmanship of Sir Clutha Mackenzie to regularise different Braille Codes prevalent in India. The result was the Bharati Braille.
Since its inception till the outbreak of the Second World War, the Calcutta Blind School (CBS) remained the only institution of its kind in the whole of Bengal and provided, though in a limited way, educational services to the blind. In the twenties and thirties, it produced some eminent blind persons in Eastern India» But, except school education (including traditional music and crafts), its activities did not enter into other areas of services for the blind.
It is an amazing fact that though CBS was regarded as a prestigious and pioneering institution? it did not influence or inspire any other agency to establish schools for the blind. One of the causes behind it was, it seems, the preoccupation of Bengalees with political movements,. And the other was the heavy dependence of the authorities of the CBS on the British Raj. The identification of such works with Christian missionaries (and
- 24 hence the ruling power) might have antagonised the nationalistic social workers» Maybe some sort of hostility was there on the part of the exis ting school towards the new entrants in this field.
The second school was established in Kalimpong in 1940 by an English lady, Mary Scott» Later, the Mary Scott Home for the Blind was handed over to the Salvation Army. It was also established and run on traditional lines to provide some school education to the blinde In 1941, Dr. S„Co Ray, a blind scholar, ushered in a new idea in Bengal when he and his American wife, Mrs« Evelyn Ray, established the All India Lighthouse for the Blind in Calcutta with the expressed intention of training adult blind persons of India irrespective of creed, caste or lan guage. Dr. Ray went to the USA and the Lighthouse for the Blind of New York gave him the idea« It attracted the attention of leaders of Bengal.
Its first governing body was composed of persons like Dr. Shyamaprosad Mukherjee, Dr0 B.C» Roy, Sri Naliniranjan Sarkar, Lord S.P. Sinha, Sri Tusher Kanti Ghosh, Sri Maniram Bagri, etc.
At the outset, it started as an adult (age 14-30) training centre with book-binding and wood crafts as the main trades, subsequently, caning ana weaving were added. It imparted some sort of primary education up to the standard III to its adult trainees who usually came without any educational background. The Institution deleted the prefix "All India" from its name in 1947 and registered as Lighthouse for the Blind in 1950.
Though the Institution was established for vocational training, it also made arrangements with some local general schools for academic education for its trainees who wanted and had merit for higher education.
In 1946; Drс S,Сс Ray, with some eminent blind persons of Bengal, established the Blind Persons' Association, with Professor Nagendranath Sengupta, the famous blind philosopher and educationalist, as its President, with the aim of promoting general welfare, education and social status of the blind in the region. It was the first association of its kind in the country.
rejuvenation. That is why we find that Independence did not bring any upsurge in the educational field, not to speak of education for the blind.
It took a full decade after Independence for another institution for the blind to be established.
In 1957, the Blind Boys' Academy (BBA) was established by the Ramakrishna Mission at Narendrapur. The Mission did not take up services for the blind as a pre-planned programme among its various activities. The Blind Boys' Academy was a single person's endeavour and vision - Swami Lokeswaranananda, and the Mission endorsed the idea and involved itself with the work later. As in the other cases, here also we find personal efforts instead of collective organizational planning.
It may be said that with the establishment of the BBA, the services for the blind stepped into the modern age. A hurried glance over the history of development of this institution would reveal that in spite of its modest beginning, it gradually channelled its services to other areas like teachers' training, light engineering, braille press, sub-contract workshop, agriculture and rural vocations, rehabilitation service, community education, etc.
The BBA" s uniqueness in this region is evident from its nontraditional but scientific and total approach to the field of education and
training of blind children, for example:
Though not very noticeable, the other three activities of the BBA have far-reaching effects on the diversification of services for the blind in this region;
In 1965, another School for the Blind was founded by Mrs. B. Hodne a Swedish lady under the Swedish Mission in Coochbehar«, It imparts academic education from Class I to Class VIII. Sometimes the students are sent to the neighbouring sighted schools for higher education. Training in crafts, weaving and physiotherapy are also available there.
There is another school in Coochbehar - the Government School for the Blind, established by the Social Welfare Department of the Government of Bengal, It is more a home for adult blind than a school» It has got some training programmes, but they are still not well organised.
Next comes the Vivekananda Mission School for the Blind at Chaitanyapur (near Haldia). This is the only school which has been established in a rural area, away from cities and towns„ It is coming up with modern ideas - though its range of activities is small at present.
of Naihati (1977) - are examples of new efforts in providing education for the blind in West Bengal. Both are struggling for survival and fighting against various odds. Another school - Helen Keller Centenary School for the Blind (1981), set up by the Blind Persons' Association at Krishnagar, is in its embryonic stage.
From the above short history of development of blind education in
West Bengal, the trend that emerges can be summarized as follows:
(1) Due to political and financial reasons the establishment of institutions for the blind in West Bengal would be more and more dependent on governmental assistance and initiative«, By nature the organisations here are averse to go to the rich people for huge donations on the one hand, and on the other, the industrialists and the business tycoons also think it a bad investment to get involved financially in the work for the blind.
This will be clear if we compare the condition of social works in Maharastra and Gujarat with West Bengal. The Parsi community and the Gujarati business community there are not only big donors - but also take active interests in such works«, In the South, the churches are still active. Both the factors which encourage social works are absent in West Bengal.
(2) There is a definite tendency on the part of the Institutions in West Bengal to bring down the wide age differences among the blind students in the class and to narrow the differences of age range between the sighted and the blind of the same classe That leaves out a considerable number of blind persons beyond the admissible age range out of education and training programmes. For them, adult training centres would crop up in the near future, or the existing schools have to open separate wings to cater to the needs of such persons.
(3) The limited success in economic placement, particularly in open industries, has decreased to some extent, the desire for higher academic education among a section of blind students«, This awareness is already influencing the decisions of school authorities in their future development and planning. If a close relationship between training and economic placement is firmly established, then the modern trend of establishing academic institutions would change and more training facilities would be available.
- 28 At present a subtle change in some areas, and noticeably pronounced in some others, in the approach to the education as such is taking place in West Bengal. So far, the curriculum (not to speak of the syllabus only) was modelled after the sighted schools, ignoring the special needs of the blind children. As a result, the so-called academic education remained static on the audition memory level» With increasing demand on a blind person 5 s own initiative, independence and ingenuity, the futility of verbal training, without any compensatory and remedial measures, is becoming evident to the planners of education for the blindo Particularly the lack of adequate training in orientation, mobility, concept formation, daily living and social skills, proper self-concept, etc. are being acutely felt in rehabilitation efforts. So, in the future, both the contents and method of instruction in blind schools are going to change to incorporate the above-mentioned skills in their training programmes, (5) With the increasing cost of establishing and maintaining an Institution, and for the démocratisation of education for the blind, the questions of establishing more special schools or mainstreaming the normal blind children is becoming crucial. If we take into consideration the necessity of reconstruction of curriculum in blind schools and the special needs of the multiple handicapped blind children, then it might not be possible to have a great number of schools or to add to the existing schools various wings to cater to different types of needs«, Hence, integrated education, and ultimately mainstreaming, seems to be inevitable.
2„3 Programmes, of rehabilitation for the blind Rehabilitation in the case of a blind person, as mentioned in the last chapter, would means (i) to make up his developmental and social deficits due to sensory deprivation;
(ii) to equip him with adequate competency for meaningful social living; and (iii) to make him economically independent.
The first two aspects of rehabilitation are taken to mean education and training, and the third point is generally used to mean "economic placement".
As the ultimate aim of rehabilitation is independent living, and because to
- 29 earn one's own living in a productive way is the first condition of social independence in the modern world, so the narrower meaning of the term (economic placement) has become synonymous with the whole (rehabilitation).
In the above sense of the term, rehabilitation of the blind was never consciously aimed at by any institution in West Bengal before the sixties. With the establishment of the light engineering training for the blind (1964) in the Blind Boys' Academy, Narendrapur (under the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration of the USA Programme), a Rehabilitation Coun sellor was appointed for the purpose of finding suitable jobs in the open and competitive employment market for the trained boyse A planned and con certed effort was made for economic placement of the blind in West Bengal for the first time«, A brief discussion of the history of economic achievement by the blind will help us understand the importance of 1964 and its effects.
Before then, some blind men and women attained economic success and social eminence by dint of their own merit; no agency or institution helped them, except providing them with academic education up to junior or high school level. In the twenties and thirties, barring a few cases like K 0 C Dey, the famous singer, almost all of them - Late Professor Nagendranath Sengupta, Professor Manindra Kumar, Late Madhusudan Dev, writer and editor, Barrister Sadhan Gupta, Dr. S„С. Ray - were students of Calcutta Blind School, Behala, and they came of educated middle class families. They received higher education and achieved economic success through personal or family efforts.
So far as we know the first blind persons to get employment in an organisation were Late Bhaben Banerjee as the music teacher and Sm„ Savitri Ray as an academic teacher in Calcutta Blind School. Sm. Ray was the first blind lady matriculate in West Bengal.
In this connection, the late Sadhan Ch. Dutta deserves mention. He was the only son of an illiterate poor lady who worked as a maid-servant in the CBS for many years«, He got school education in the Blind School, passed Matriculation from general school, and even without being helped or encouraged, he got college education and passed the B.A. simply by hard work and deter mination о Afterwards, he earned his livelihood by chair-caning and some times by private coaching«, He used to secure the jobs all by himself.
- 30 His was the first case of se If-employment«, Unfortunately, Sadhan Chandra died very young in 1935, due to consumption,, Though Lighthouse for the Blind (1941) was an Adult Training Centre with certain traditional crafts, it had no rehabilitation programme. Its trainees who attained economic independence afterwards, got their jobs not because they were trained in a particular trade, but because they had higher education unrelated to their specific training. Sm. Prativa Bagchi (later Mrs. Arya - the late Headmistress of Virjanand Arya Kanya Andh Vidyalaya of Delhi) was the first blind lady graduate of Bengal»