The stakes were high as 46 students and supporters from 11 different schools across Ghana gathered at Okuapemman Senior High School for an exciting competition on January 31, 2012. Inside, the filled auditorium looked like a patchwork quilt as students seated in groups of matching school uniforms waited with baited breath, along with their teachers, for the panel of dignitaries on stage to start reading out the names of the winning competitors and schools.
No, this was not a national sporting event. It was Ghana’s first-ever national braille competition: The Braille Cup – Ghana. All of the competing students, ages 9 to 19, use braille to read and write.
Braille: The World at Their Fingertips
|Students reading from braille essays at Ghana's first Braille Cup.|
For students with very low vision and blindness, braille - the tactile reading and writing system of raised dots that represent letters of the print alphabet – is a window to literature and the wider world. The Braille Cup - Ghana focused on the theme of unleashing the potential of children who are blind through braille literacy. The students competed for prizes including cash awards, silver trophy cups, and six classic Perkins Brailler® typewriters.
Prior to entering the competition, the junior and primary students had very little experience using a braillewriter and most of them had only a few weeks of practice. But they were up to the challenge and were not afraid of working hard.
The students were judged for braille skills including reading comprehension, reading fluency, spelling, proofreading and essay and oral presentation. Ellen Hall, Perkins International’s Braille Literacy Manager, was in Ghana for the event. She watched students give oral presentations on braille essays that answered the question: “What does learning braille mean to me?” The students completed the papers before the event and came ready to present their views.
“There were looks of intense concentration on the faces of the students as they ran their fingers over braille text, reading aloud before the panel,” Ellen said.
Literacy Equals Independence
Indeed, the opportunity to learn braille means a great deal to these students and others around the world. Research shows students who are blind and use braille are significantly more likely to go onto higher education and employment than those who do not.
|Millicent Ayitey was studying on Perkins campus when her students back in Ghana won the Primary Division Braille Cup.|
Millicent Ayitey is a teacher at the Akropong School for the Blind, whose team won the highest number of points in its division and took home the Primary Division Braille Cup. While her students were making history in Ghana’s first national braille competition, Millicent was cheering them on from afar as she was busy doing some studying of her own at Perkins's Watertown, MA campus. Millicent, one of 13 educators from around the world selected to participate in Perkins International’s 2011-2012 Educational Leadership Program, lit up with pride when she found out about her school’s prestigious honor.
“Despite our limited resources, we work so hard to give the best to our students to reach their potential,” said Millicent, who is responsible for teaching math, science, English, social studies, and braille to a classroom of 13 students who are blind with additional disabilities.
Millicent’s classroom contains just one Perkins Brailler, but each student also has his or her own slate and stylus, a more difficult to use braille writing device that requires users to manually punch individual braille dots into paper. The dots must be made backwards (from right to left) so the imprinted words can be read from left to right. The Braille Cup – Ghana represents part of a widespread effort to make sure students like those in Millicent’s school are given the chance to learn braille and fully understand how it can make a profound difference in their lives.
Working Together to Motivate and Inspire Students Who Are Blind
It all began with a $5,000 gift from Perkins International to promote braille literacy and the six Perkins Braillers donated to the Ghana Blind Union (GBU) by the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust. The competition materials for The Braille Cup – Ghana were developed in cooperation with the Braille Institute of America, Inc., which runs a similar contest annually in the USA called The Braille Challenge®. The Ghana Ministry of Education – Special Education Division and the Braille Council of Ghana also played key roles in making the competition a success.
Ellen Hall summed it up by saying: “This is a story about community organizations working together to inspire their students who are blind and have low vision.”
|Perkins Braillers® are the paper and pen to a child who is blind. Learn how you can help children in East Africa access these essential literacy tools.|
The event, organized and achieved in less than 12 weeks, was so successful in this task that all those involved hope to make The Braille Cup – Ghana an annual event – especially the teachers who saw how much the competition motivated their students. And they are willing to work hard to keep that spark and passion for learning alive in the students, having already raised funds from local sponsors.
Just as importantly, the competition raised awareness on the community and national level about what children with blindness can achieve through education and braille literacy. The acting Director General of Ghana Education Service, Benedicta Naana Biney, made time in her schedule to attend the closing ceremony and vowed to support the event in the future.
Together we can provide these children with tools and support to keep learning and striving to fulfill their potential. For Millicent there is no question that students with blindness and additional disabilities can achieve greatness – so many of the students in her school already have. In addition to taking home the Braille Cup, Millicent talks proudly about her school’s many vibrant groups including a music group, traditional dancing group, sports team, spelling bee, and essay writing group. Notable graduates of the school have gone on to become directors of organizations, lawyers, teachers, and journalists.
“I believe my students will perform creditably when supported with adequate and appropriate facilities, teaching aids, and accessible technologies,” Millicent said. “I want them to feel they can achieve anything they put their minds to, because a disability is not inability.”