Overbrook Initiative in China
Background : In April 2000 the principals of the leading schools for the blind in China visited the Overbrook School for the Blind to learn from our experience. One of the areas that most impressed them was our integrated use of technology at all levels of the school. This led to a request in late 2002 to assist them in the development of a program that would help China to more effectively integrate technology into the curriculum and support students in higher education and employment.
Preparatory Work : In March 2003, Overbrook conducted a survey of nine schools and in October Ms. Wenru Niu made site visits to these schools and two universities. This survey and site visit has resulted in a comprehensive report that outlines the elements of a plan-of-action that over 3 to 5 years will lead to sustainable change.
Overall Plan : The plan under development is structured around three major objectives that will impact two sectors; schools for the blind in China and colleges and universities willing to accept qualified blind students for higher education degrees.
The plan will:
• Improve the use of access technology in selected schools with the goal of having these schools serve as model programs to assist other schools in their region,
• To develop an effective network for individuals and organizations participating in the program with the overall goal of self-sufficiency within five years, and
• To assist two or three colleges/universities who have demonstrated an interest in accepting qualified blind students into existing programs and departments with the long-range goal of these programs serving as models for other colleges and universities in China.
Progress to Date :
The following is a brief outline of achievements to date in implementing the plan:
- A 3-week study tour by technology instructors from Eight schools for the blind was carried out between October 30, 2004 to November 18, 2004. This study tour provided both theoretical and practical components of using assistive technology as an educational tool in the classroom and exposure to the many ways new technologies can impact education and employment for blind persons.
- A discussion list was established after the group returned home in December 2004 at Zhejiang School for the Blind's website for the teachers to share experiences and information.
- A two-day follow-up workshop for the 8 schools involved in the above mentioned study tour was conducted in Beijing on March 17-18, 2005 and involved both teachers and school principals. In addition to feedback reports on achievements to date the topics for future training programs in China was also discussed.
- A feasibility study/consultation with three participating universities ( Beijing Union University , Changchun University and East China Normal University ) was conducted by Tamas Babinszki and Wenru Niu from February 27 to March 11, 2005. This also included a visit to Shanghai School for the Blind, Beijing School for the Blind, and China Braille Press.
- A two-week study tour was conducted for four faculty members from Changchun University, Beijing Union University and the Director of Special Education, Ministry of Education in June/July, 2005. This study tour involved meetings with disability services coordinators at several US universities, focus meetings with blind individuals working in a number of professions, discussions with the staff of the American Printing House for the Blind and participation in the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
- A comprehensive report detailing all aspects of work-to-date on the Overbrook-China Initiative has been completed and distributed to all participating schools and universities, the Ministry of Education and the China Disabled Persons Federation.
- The first workshop was carried out in August 2005 in Beijing on the proper use of Chinese software and on how to bring assistive technology to all aspects of students' life.
- Second workshop topic has been identified during the closing of the first workshop and Overbrook plans to support at least two training programs in China each year for the next three years.