Changing Teachers' Practices in Regular Schools Enrolling Children with Visual Impairment (Pehmeäkantinen kirja)

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The number of persons with visual impairment in Tanzania is estimated to over 1.6 million. About half a million of these persons are children aged 7-13. Only about 1% of these children are enrolled in schools. The special schools and units are too few and in most cases they are far away from the children's homes. More and more regular schools are enrolling children with visual impairment, but the schools lack financial resources, tactile teaching materials and trained special education teachers. Children with visual impairment enrolled in regular schools seldom get enough support and often fail in examinations.

The general aim of this study was to contribute to increased knowledge and understanding about how teachers can change their teaching practices and thus facilitate the learning of children with visual impairment included in regular classrooms as they participate in an action research project. The project was conducted in a primary school in a poor rural region with a high frequency of blindness and visual impairment. The school was poorly resourced and the average number of pupils per class was 90. The teachers who participated in the collaborative action research project were the 14 teachers who taught blind or visually impaired pupils in grades 4 and 6, in total 6 pupils.
The action research project was conducted during a period of 6 months and was carried out in five cycles. The teachers were actively involved in all the project activities; identifying challenges, planning solutions, producing teaching materials, reflecting on outcomes, collaborating and evaluating. Empirical data was collected with questionnaires, interviews, observations and focus group discussions. The findings of the study show that the teachers managed to change their teaching practices through systematic reflection, analysis and collaboration. The teachers produced a variety of tactile teaching materials, which facilitated the learning of the pupils with visual impairment. The pupils learned better and felt more included in the regular classes. The teachers gained new knowledge and skills. They grew professionally and started to collaborate with each other.

The study contributes to new knowledge of how collaborative action research can be conducted in the area of special education in a Tanzanian school context. The study has also relevance to the planning of school-based professional development programs and teacher education programs in Tanzania and in other low-income countries. The results also point at strategies which can promote inclusion of children with disabilities in regular schools.
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