I am delighted to launch a project that will revolutionize the quality of teaching and learning for visually impaired learners.
The Directorate: Specialised Education Support in the WCED recently conducted a study that looked at ways in which the Department could best support blind learners by using different technologies.
The study identified three devices that would contribute significantly to improving access and the quality of learning.
These new devices include the e-braille portable computer; a device for scanning and reading printed text; and a portable MP3 player designed for blind users.
The Western Cape Education Department has invested more than R1 million in the new technology to support blind learners at two schools in the province – the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South and the Pioneer School in Worcester.
The Athlone School for the Blind will receive ten BrailleNote Apex computers and the Pioneer School five. These computers will make it possible for blind learners to read electronic text using an electro-mechanical display that raises dots against a flat surface.
The device also allows learners to type text in braille and to listen to the text via computer-generated speech.
Learners can read and listen to electronic text in various formats, including PDF and Word files. The schools will discourage the use of spoken text to encourage development of braille reading and typing skills.
They can also browse the internet via wi-fi and connect to other devices via Blue Tooth. The learners will be able to retrieve their text and save their work onto flash drives for assessment.
Teachers will monitor how learners are using the device via an external computer monitor in alphanumeric text. The WCED is supplying fifteen monitors to support the e-braille portable computers.
The WCED is also providing four devices that can scan and read text to learners via built in speakers using a natural-sounding voice. The department is providing two of the devices, called the Eye-Pal Solo, for each school.
The devices, which look like small overhead projectors, capture printed text via a digital camera. The devices use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert text to speech or to provide an output for reading in braille via the e-braille computers.
Meanwhile, the portable MP3 players, called the Victor Reader Stratus 12M, have 12 keys that blind users can easily navigate to listen to e-books and to music.
Edit Microsystems, who supplied all the equipment for the project, has donated three of the MP3 players to each of the schools.
They are the South African agent for Humanware, who manufacture the equipment identified for the project, in the United Kingdom.
The WCED and Edit Microsystems will introduce and train teachers on how to use the equipment during the course of February (2013). The WCED will support the use of the devices on an ongoing basis.
The department is also making electronic versions of relevant teaching and learning materials available, including textbooks to support the implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS).