With the onset of COVID-19 in Kazakhstan in March 2020, most schools were forced to close and children had to get used to learning remotely. This was a challenge for all children. Students and parents alike struggled with connectivity, access to devices and digital skills. But for children with visual impairments and their parents, the transition to remote learning was nothing short of disastrous.
For children with visual impairments and their parents, the transition to remote learning was nothing short of disastrous.
In a meeting with children with visual impairments, one mother was in tears when she told me: “Of course we went out and bought a laptop for our daughter to benefit from online learning, but we had no clue how to help her connect to her classes independently, or to help her find her way through the many online learning resources.” Needless to say, this led to significant frustration and considerable learning loss.
At UNICEF we know that, with a little support, children with visual impairments can acquire skills that supports them to use digital technology successfully. That is why we teamed up with the NGO Zhan, the software development company EPAM and a Youth Resource Centre to deliver a digital literacy programme for children with visual impairments in Almaty. Through the programme, the children learned the basics of operating computers and smartphones, and found out how to access web resources, use navigation and messenger apps. They were introduced to various software programmes and even acquired some foundational programming skills.
The results of the children’s learning are nothing short of amazing. A father told us that the course has opened up a whole world of opportunities for his daughter, giving her new ways to access information, to communicate with peers and relatives and even to navigate the city. His daughter asked him: “Daddy, how did I even manage before I knew how to do all this?”
The new skills have helped the children dream bigger than ever before.
The new skills have helped the children dream bigger than ever before. Ten-year-old Sophia told me: “I used to think that when I grow up I’ll be a baker. But now I want to be a programmer in a major company like Google or Facebook.”
Ilyas Fatkulin, the head of Zhan, knows all too well how technology can open a world of opportunity for people with disabilities, as he lives with a visual impairment himself. He told me: “With access to technology I am able to lead an independent life, to manage an NGO like this and to implement useful projects for children with my team. This training programme is useful for the children in their education and daily life, but it also gives them much better chances to find a job later on in life.” Although sadly he points out that many employers in Kazakhstan remain reluctant to employ people with disabilities.
Each and every child has unique talents and, if we want to build an inclusive society, it is up to us all to create the conditions under which every child can thrive and realize her or his full potential.
For me personally, speaking to the children who benefited from this training and their parents underlines the true meaning of our slogan #ItsAllAboutAbility. Each and every child has unique talents and, if we want to build an inclusive society, it is up to us all to create the conditions under which every child can thrive and realize her or his full potential. The course we delivered with Zhan, EPAM and the Youth Resource Centre is one practical example of what needs to be done to build a truly inclusive Kazakhstan. One step on a long and winding road, which we will continue to walk #ForEveryChild.
About the author:
Arthur van Diesen is the UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan