An innovative information and communications technology (ICT) training centre has been set up to equip disabled children with key computer skills, so improving their prospects in the job market.
Initiated by Huawei, the global ICT company, in partnership with Khulisani, an enterprise development company, the centre on wheels was designed to help intellectually challenged children to improve their understanding of the world and to acquire crucial skills that will help them hold their own in a working environment. The mobile centre also caters for physically disabled pupils.
It was set up in a Toyota Quantum panel van, fitted with six laptops. Each laptop has various programs, including educational games used to develop the pupils’ mental ability.
On a Wednesday afternoon, computer teacher Patrick Ndlovu is in the middle of a lesson at Eureka Primary School, a school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities. The school, in Leeuhoof in Vereeniging, is one of the five in the area benefiting from the mobile ICT centre.
Ndlovu moves from one pupil to another, giving instructions on how to successfully complete their task for the day. There is a spirit of competition between the pupils, and some shout in excitement when they finish a task. The teacher walks up and down, helping those who are struggling to find their way.
About 60 pupils from grades 1 to 7 at Eureka participate in the programme. Use of the centre is done on a rotational basis, and each pupil has 20 minutes a day. In this way, the mobile computer lab can cater for up to 78 pupils a day, according to the project manager, Rachael Erskine.
The pupils are grouped according to their intellectual ability, with programmes tailored for each group’s specific needs and abilities; those who are more able are put in one group.
“Our approach is different when dealing with each group of children,” explains Ndlovu. “There are those who can grasp things quicker so with those we do more challenging and demanding tasks. With slow learners we start off with easy computer games to sort of warm up their minds, but once they [grasp] then they improve steadily.”
In time, the children are taught basic foundational computer literacy, MS Office and internet access.
Ndlovu, who himself has a disability – his left arm is crippled – says children with disabilities should be given more opportunities to lead normal lives. “Having a disability should not mean that these children’s futures are doomed. I am happy that Huawei and Khulisani have come up with this initiative to give these children a chance to develop their lives. It humbles me to see some of them working so hard. They very committed.”
Erskine adds: “At this school [Eureka] we work with the IT teacher to decide on which programs we should use for the students as basic numeracy and literacy is low, and we should concentrate on the fundamentals.”
Besides the mobile ICT centre, the parents of some of the children at Eureka have arranged for their children to be taken to well-resourced school nearby for computer lessons.
The centre spends at least a week at a school before moving on to the next. Unlike Eureka, Sebokeng High Technical, another beneficiary of the project, has no back-up plan. The mobile computer lab is the only the chance it has to expose pupils to the world of computers.
It is a school for pupils with intellectual disabilities, with a total enrolment of 350. A number of students who can grasp more advanced computer programs were selected to participate. “As we are limiting the number of students who will avail [of] the training, the principal is writing a list of those students who would best benefit. He suggests we take those who show an interest in, or have aptitude for, IT skills,” Erskine explains.
Other schools on the programme include the 360-pupil Thabo Vuyo, for pupils with intellectual disabilities; Handhawer School; and JNS School for children with cerebral palsy.