Saibaba Goud with students at Devnar School for the Blind
Devnar School for the Blind in Begumpet in Hyderabad has been a beacon of hope for the visually challenged for almost two and a half decades. Started by ophthalmologist Saibaba Goud, the school has been offering free education for the visually challenged, giving them the much-needed confidence to become productive and face the outside world. The school, which offers classes from lower kindergarten to 12th standard in English medium, is unique as admissions are open throughout the year.
Goud recalled his journey of starting the school nearly 25 years ago. As an eye doctor he would tell parents that blindness is incurable and sight cannot be restored. This would leave parents devastated. A dark future would stare at parents of the child. This went on for a few years. Then he realised that he needed to do something to provide security for visually challenged children.
Goud, a father figure for the less fortunate children, and his wife visited many schools run by NGOs and governments all around the country to start a school. They noticed that most schools for the visually challenged offered education in local language. "We thought we should start with English medium so that the future of the children will be very good. Knowledge of English will help them to compete with normal children. With this aim we started a trust in 1991. And in June 1992 we identified 4 children and started a school," Goud said.
After a few months, the management realised that a hostel attached to the school would help children from outside Hyderabad could come and stay. As the word spread about free education facilities, parents started bringing children to the school. The school now has 550 children on its rolls.
The school has a huge library with Braille books on all subjects, including law. Most of the books are printed at the school's printing lab, after each word
is converted by Goud and others into Braille with the help of computers. Four different computer labs help the children to learn.
"Many of our students are well placed. Many have been recruited by banks, state and central governments. They are all living with self esteem, supporting their families and paying taxes," Goud says. Two of his students are practicing Chartered Accountants. Devnar's children are active in sports events also.
Realising the need for well-trained teachers to deal with visually challenged children, they have started offering special B Ed and D Ed courses. "Not even 10% of the country's visually challenged children are enrolled in schools. If more join schools there will be severe shortage of teachers. Our future plan is to start a polytechnic college in computer applications which will help them to get lateral entry into B tech courses," Goud said.
The school has also offered new innovations in teaching for the visually challenged. R Parameswaran, who has worked with the Emirates teaching normal children, joined as a voluntary teacher in 2012. He teaches physics and chemistry for children from eighth to tenth standard. "Teaching is my passion, I was teaching sighted children, and here it was a challenge, particularly in science as they can't not see drawings. They have to be taught in touch and feel method. They touch, remember and form a mental picture. The mental picture is permanent," he said.
As the perforated models on paper lose their depth perception he used plastic models for longer life. The school improved the method and presented it at the National Children Science Congress. Out of 700 projects it figured in the top 15. "Aim is to change teaching methodology for visually challenged children so that they can take up engineering courses. They have only visual disability not learning disability," he said. Now he is working on electric equipment for laboratories that are friendly to disabled persons with the help of infrared rays.
The school also has dedicated staff like Lilly Egbert, Principal who has been working with the visually challenged children for the past 17 years. "When I came and saw it was a touching moment as I was passionate about teaching. When the school started there were not many students as parents were not ready to admit them," she recalls. "Now after getting education at Devnar they are getting good salaries. The school has helped in laying a very good foundation," she said.
A Jyothi Goud, Correspondent of the school, scouts around the world for new teaching equipment for the visually challenged and purchases them.
"Because of the technology only our students are doing so well. Foreigners love coming here, stay for months and teach our children starting from kindergarten," Jyothi says. She encourages teachers to come voluntarily and teach on different subjects but restricts their services to only after school hours as they might not have skills to teach the visually challenged children.
Jyothi takes extra care of growing girls and their health-related issues. "Gynaecologists and social workers conduct courses for the visually challenged young girls so that they understand issues of puberty and hygiene. Actually love and affection make them easier to manage," she says.