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A Personal View of Quebec's Education System For Children With Vision Impairments

I've been working for the P. E. Layton School (PEL) for a bit over 20 years, and have seen several changes. PEL is and has been for quite a while the only educational support service available to students in the English public schools in Quebec. Now, the English school system in Quebec doesn't have many students (usually about 100 who have vision impairments) and Quebec has a tremendous area, but we offer a surprising number of services, mostly because we work so closely with the Montreal Association for the Blind (MAB) and have had sympathetic bosses at the school board (currently the English Montreal School Board or EMSB).

The only training required as a teacher of the vision-impaired in Quebec is the standard teaching certification, although a diploma of special education used to be required. (New teachers are deemed to have that education included in their B.Ed. training.) In fact, there is no education available in Quebec that is geared specifically to the education of the vision-impaired.

When I was first hired, the Montreal Association for the Blind, (MAB) gave me orientation sessions designed to sensitize me to the special skills needed for working with the blind. They also introduced me to the precursor of The Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) and journals that might be helpful. It was also one of their staff who gave me my beginning lessons in braille. That aspect hasn't changed much. We now have one teacher (out of 14 who fill 12 positions) who has graduated from a program designed for teachers of children with vision impairments, but the rest of us have been trained mainly on the job through our contact with the multi-disciplinary team of colleagues at the MAB. We read and try to attend conferences and in-services and network among ourselves, but miss the formal training that is required elsewhere.

On the other hand, since we do have easy access to experts with other backgrounds, I think our students benefit from a broad, practical approach tailored to their specific needs. Real advantages of working in Quebec are the excellent aids and devices loan program and the accessibility of low vision clinics throughout the province.

The MAB, like PEL, is mandated to serve the English population of the province, but students at a distance from Montreal are encouraged to register with the closest rehabilitation centre. Typically the itinerant recommends that the student receive a CCTV or other aid to assist in some part of their academic life, the rehabilitation centre trains the student in its use and issues it, then the itinerant assures that things work as they should in the school setting, and advises school staff on maintenance and how to obtain repairs.

I always feel a bit sorry for my colleagues in the United States who spend so much of their time writing grant applications for education basics like braillers. A down side to working in Quebec, though, is the chronic under funding we experience in education. (Quebec is second only to the state of Mississippi in stinginess of per capita funding).

Students with vision impairments can receive itinerant services (and usually do) only if their home board completes an interboard agreement with the EMSB which implies a minimum payment of $1000 for 6 visits per year. If the student is a Braille user (we have 11 of them served by itinerants this year), the school board also pays $5000 for materials. In the English Quebec system, it is the itinerant who teaches the student braille (which obviously requires significantly more than 6 visits per year), so fees in excess of the $5000 + $1000 are negotiated. The French sector regards the home school as responsible for teaching the student to read, and offers yearly training to staff from the home district. There are no government funded early intervention programs that I am aware of, although the MAB runs one from its own donations.

Public schools in Quebec run from kindergarten (or pre- kindergarten in some areas) through the equivalent of Grade 11, after which students attend CEGEP for 2 or 3 years, and university for another 3 or more years. CEGEPs and universities are expected to provide any special ed- ucational support services their students may need. Vision-impaired students are also able to attend a specialized school for the blind, PEL for the English, or Jacques Ouellette near Montreal for the French. PEL's internal school serves primarily multiply and severely handicapped students this year.

When I was first hired, students with a single impairment attended PEL until they had mastered the basics of braille, O&M, and other "blindness-specific" skills before being integrated into neighbourhood schools, usually in Grade 4 or Grade 5.

Most students with a single impairment now begin school in their neighbourhoods, and may come in to the internal part of PEL for a year or more later in their academic careers to hone their skills in areas other students don't study like adaptive technology. Certainly computers have vastly changed the kind of education our students receive, and the philosophy of inclusion in all its various forms has altered their placements, but perhaps the most significant change from my point of view as a teacher has been the shift in standards. Students with vision impairments used to be able to claim an exemption from some objectives in a course. For instance, a braille user could ask for an exemption from map making in geography. Because students with vision impairments are now viewed as much more capable than they once were, exemptions are more difficult to obtain.

This is worrisome to me given the swing to much more visual materials as schools rely more on the Internet and visually "attractive" texts. I suspect this is a problem in other regions as well, so perhaps we will see solutions to accessibility problems emerge. I just hope those solutions come before the Ministry of Education solidifies its assessment procedures which are in flux this year as a massive overhaul of the curriculum is introduced. As I begin to plan for my retirement, I worry since I know all the teachers of the vision-impaired in the Anglophone sector of Quebec.

Most of us are about the same age. If we are to improve or even maintain the level of instruction our students receive, we need to start preparing and training our replacements very soon, and I, for one, don't know where they'll come from.

Seeing is not always believing, But Truly, Believing Is Seeing.

Comments

hello, my name is fredericka banks. I am doing resurch one canadun schools for the blind for my capstone. I atend argosyy univercity and i am working on muy masters digree in coriculem and instructional leadership. The project is one language and litracy traing in both english as well as frinch. I am also looking at the leadership frame work of the schools for the blind in canada. one of the things that i would like to see is how does the coriculem that is considdered in your school systum effect the accadimic preformence of your students once they get out in to socity. I would also like to know morwe about some of the teaching oppratunitys that are their. pleas contact me at fred.banks1@gmail.com and or 770-3717110 i am trying to find a school for the blind that teaches both english and frinch. however, i would like to know if by being in a prodomently frinch provence, do your schools also teach the frinch language even thou you are english? pleas let me know and feel fre to contact me by phonethanks€€€€€€€€€€€€€€€€