"In countries with scarce resources, educational programs for children with multiple disabilities are often insufficient or nonexistent."
Perkins School for the Blind at the United Nations has launched Perkins International Academy, an innovative teacher training program that seeks to equip one million educators by 2030 with the knowledge and skills to effectively teach children who are multiply disabled and visually impaired or deafblind. This initiative, announced during a panel at the United Nation's 10th session of the Conference of States Parties (CoSP10) to the U.N.'s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, supports the U.N's Sustainable Development Goal 4 to fulfill the rights of the world's most vulnerable children to a quality and inclusive education.
"Every United Nations member state has a moral and practical responsibility to improve educational opportunities for all children," said Ambassador H.E. Juan José Gómez Camacho, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations. "Children with vision impairment and additional disabilities have all the potential to learn and much to give to their communities. Because well-trained teachers are essential to preparing these children, Mexico has a long-standing commitment to invest in teacher training. Promoting and embracing global access to quality education for our most vulnerable children moves us all forward toward a more inclusive society."
The need is urgent. Currently, six million children and young adults (ages 0-24) around the world with visual impairments and additional disabilities are in need of special education. In countries with scarce resources, educational programs for children with multiple disabilities are often insufficient or nonexistent. Excluded from the education system, these children are often left at home or in the care of orphanages and children's homes. They may have access to nurses and therapists -- but little or no interaction with specially-trained educators. Furthermore, without specialized training, teachers often struggle to meet the unique needs of visually impaired students, particularly those with multiple disabilities.
"Perkins International Academy will serve as a catalyst for governments, educators and communities to achieve measurable progress toward providing every child with the quality education they deserve," said Dave Power, President and CEO of Perkins School for the Blind. "We have the capability to help government ministries and the international community meet this commitment. Six million children and young adults around the world are counting on it."
Perkins seeks not only to change education for the better, but also to facilitate a worldwide culture shift around visual impairment and disabilities by partnering with governments, universities and educators in more than 40 countries. Building on nearly 200 years of experience and innovation, Perkins has developed a scalable and sustainable teacher training curriculum to fill this urgent gap and is working worldwide with governments and education professionals to implement these practices.
"There are still places in the world that harbor the misperception that children with multiple disabilities and visual impairment cannot learn, which could not be further from the truth," said Michael Delaney, Executive Director of Perkins International. "Dispelling such false perceptions and demonstrating the true potential of each child is where our challenge lies. Through Perkins International Academy -- and the partnerships we are building around the world -- we are confident that training one million teachers by 2030 is a reachable goal."
The Perkins International Academy curriculum is intensive. Successful participants earn certificates verifying their competency to deliver high-quality special education services. These certificates can be cobranded with government ministries to help countries show measurable progress toward Goal 4 of the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals -- all while laying the groundwork for sustainable improvements to special education programs that give children the chance to grow into productive adults.
During the past year, Perkins International Academy successfully piloted programs in Argentina and India. The pilot programs, completed in December 2016, provided teachers with diverse backgrounds the skills to individualize curriculums for students with unique disabilities. Additionally, the panel during this week's U.N.'s CoSP10 was co-sponsored by Antigua-Barbuda, Croatia, Kenya and Mexico.
"As a special educator, I've been trained to work with students with significant disabilities, but it can be challenging to effectively teach children who are visually impaired and multiply disabled. Many struggle with even basic social skills," said Tahira Akther, a teacher at the National Association for the Blind in Jammu and Kashmir, India. "Through Perkins International Academy, I learned new assessment and planning strategies to help my students with multiple disabilities learn to communicate, engage in age-appropriate play and activities, interact with family members and care givers, and gain skills that help them participate more actively in their natural environments and routines."
CoSP10 attendees and the public can join a global conversation about the critical role of educators like Tahira Akther at #TeachersAmaze on Twitter.
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