Covid19 has been a challenge for many, but did you ever wonder how the disabled in our society managed for the past year? Students in particular, have had extra challenges and stresses after classes were moved to an online learning platform.
One non-governmental organisation, the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) in San Fernando, has ensured that its students did not fall victim to the challenges of remote learning.
The student population is about 250 and its principal, Kahaya Pukerin, said although it took a while, students can now access their classrooms through various organisations which provided devices and internet connectivity.
Students throughout the country have been home since March last year after schools were closed owing to the pandemic. At NCPD, Puckerin said the socio-economic status of the students prevented online learning from beginning right away: they didn’t have tablets or computers or even internet access.
“We did workbooks for them, and our teachers would have called to find out how they were doing and if there were any challenges.”
Once they were provided with devices, “Our students and teachers were trained to use the platforms to execute teaching. As for practical assignments students would use whatever materials were available to them to complete it. We would not be able to do the full practical curriculum.”
At over 50 years old, the NGO continues to provide vocational rehabilitation training for people with physical disabilities to help them re-enter society after they leave hospital wards.
Pukerin said they cater for people from 14 years old in skills training areas such as agriculture, aquaponics, beauty culture, bookbinding and paper recycling, food preparation, garment construction, information technology, office administration, welding and woodworking.
These two-year programmes are supervised, with examinations and certifications issued by the National Examination Council (NEC), Ministry of Education and National Training Agency (NTA).
Additionally, the NCPD provides remedial education, life skills training, computer literacy, entrepreneurial skills, music, art, craft, sporting activities, vocational assessment, counselling, work adjustment training, independent living skills and job placement.
Pukerin said, “We want our students to have a holistic experience as well as prepare them for the world of work.”
As concessions are gradually made for reopening, the institution is unsure how exams will be done, given the nature of the school.
Pukerin said students were not able to sit any exams last year because of the pandemic and the centre was awaiting instructions from the authorities.
“We are waiting to hear from the National Examinations Council about examinations, because it is usually done in July, on Saturdays. We are preparing students who were carded to write examinations last year, as well as those for this year.”
Notwithstanding the progress over the years, she said there remained funding challenges, despite also receiving annual subventions from the State, donations, corporate sponsorships and fundraising activities. A voluntary board has oversight of the NCPD, with some paid staff and volunteers.
This past year was particularly difficult, Pukerin said because the pandemic has halted fund-raising events.
“We could not have our fete or boat ride or our signature ‘tea by the sea.’ We therefore had to reinvent and were able to transform ‘tea by the sea’ to ‘tea at home,’ which allowed us to raise some funds.”
She said while it was not enough, some of the funds will be used to continue refurbishing the building, which has been slow.