Kathmandu Post April 12

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KATHMANDU, APR 12 – Visually-impaired candidates in the race for permanent teaching positions in Nepal find themselves at an instant disadvantage thanks to the unavailability of reference books and other preparatory material in braille
On January 4 this year, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) invited applications for 13,135 vacancies for permanent teaching positions. The decision had come about following the acknowledgement of an acute shortage of permanent teachers in the country, and exams were swiftly scheduled for teachers in the primary, lower secondary and secondary levels in August. Being that this was the first time in 17 years that such an announcement had been made, schoolteachers across Nepal were naturally overjoyed, and over half a million people applications had been submitted by the end of February. But for some among these eager potentials, competing with the others is provingan uphill task, for reasons they have no control over.
Visually-impaired candidates, for instance, have discovered that many factors stand between them and coveted teaching positions, including—but not limited to—the inadequacy of preparation material and tuition facilities available that take into account their special needs. Textbooks and other reference papers in braille are impossible to come by, after all, making it difficult for these individuals to prep for the upcoming exams.
“The only things we have access to are audio recordings of reference books, but these are limited—which means we are limited,” says Gayendra Nepal, 30, from ChandeniKavrepalanchowk. Nepal, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Tahachal Campus, and sells incense during the evenings to earn a livelihood, says he tries to set aside around four hours a day to study for the exam. But he doesn’t feel ready enough to go head to head with his competitors. “We’re at an instant disadvantage, and that doesn’t help your confidence.”
The lack of access to and availability of educational material designed specifically for the visually-impaired has long posed a problem for the community in Nepal, restricting academic ambitions, and consequently, future careers. Some change—albeit very slow—has thankfully been seen in the last decade or so, with more visually-impaired students enrolled in schools and universities than in the past, owing primarily to the emergence of a few institutions targeted at their needs. Although exact data is hard to come by, it is believed that there are now about 1,000 such individuals in Nepal with university degrees, a growing, but yet paltry, figure.
But even when they are able to acquire an education and graduate, job opportunities are still difficult to come by for the visually-impaired, and many have become disillusioned as to the chances they have for a productive existence in a society that they feel is out to undermine them at every turn, refusing to recognize their caliber.
That’s been the case for visually-impaired Mina KC of Rayadada, Baglung, who will be sitting for the teaching exams, and is already doubting her chances at getting a spot, given how difficult and frustrating it’s been to prepare for it so far. Part of the problem, she says, is the fact that the government in Nepal tends to lump disabilities together, a mark of great “insensitivity and injustice”, according to her.
“Disabilities are varied, you know,” KC says. “I don’t think it’s fair to just have collective quotas and reservations in government service for the ‘disabled’, without taking into account the nature of their circumstances—we’renotallthe same.”
Another visually-impaired candidate, Rabi Dawadi, from Gorkha, has placed applications for posts in all three levels; his strategy is to toss his net out as far as he can in the hopes of catching something, at least. Out of the 13,135 vacancies announced by the TSC, 300 positions have been reserved for ‘persons with disability’,but Dawadi, who has a master’s degree in Education from the Tribhuvan University, is critical of how only a few of these spots have been relegated to the lower-secondary level, and none at all to the secondary level.
“Like it’s not bad enough that we’re all included in the same broad category, with no quota, we’ve effectively been barred from teaching at the secondary level entirely,” he says.
Hoping to give visually-impaired candidates a little boost in the way of realizing their dreams of becoming permanent teachers, the National Human Rights Protection Forum for the Disable (NHRPFDN) has been converting preparation material into audio recordings. So far, 4500 books have been converted in this manner, and on Monday, the organization distributed CDs containing material pertaining to the teachers’ exam to some 200 prospective candidates free of cost.
“There are millions of books out there for teachers to consult, but these are not within the reach of blind candidates,” says Babu Krishna Maharjan, chairman of NHRPFDN, who is himself visually-impaired. “We wanted to do what we could to help them.” Maharjan explains that the organization employs volunteers who voice reading material for the recordings, which are then put on CDs that are sold at the cheapest possible price.
Ekta Bhandari of Mega College, Babarmahal, is among NHRPFDN’s volunteers, a bachelor-level student of Social Work who says she couldn’t be prouder of her involvement with the project. “We’re essentially disseminating knowledge to people who have no other way of accessing it, and it feels great to be part of such an undertaking,” she says.
Indeed, at a time when a growing number of dissenting voices have been emerging from various groups with disabilities, regarding the discrimination and challenges they encounter in obtaining
previously-promised facilities like monthly allowances and free access to health, education and public transportation, the run for
government service has become one of the many realms in which they believe the state has not done enough to level the playing field. And some education officials admit that attention towards these groups have been clearly lacking in the government’s agenda.
“We understand that the
situation has not been ideal so far, and we hope to coordinate with other stakeholders to remedy things in time,” says DivyaDawadi,
assistant-director of Education Commission. The sentiment is echoed by Diwakar Chapagain, under-secretary at Curriculum Development Center, who adds that efforts are already underway in this regard.
“We will work to bring the required reference materials and books in braille format as soon as possible,” he says.
While it is encouraging to see the number of visually-impaired graduates on the rise in Nepal, it is equally disheartening to find many of these talented individuals languishing soon afterward, unable to compete for jobs. If progress in society hinges on the contributions of all its members, the onus is upon the government to foster an atmosphere where all—if not equal—are at least given a fighting chance to prove their worth, to the best of their abilities.
Posted on: 2013-04-13 08:21