At #202, pupils are taught to read and write in braille, the writing system of raised dots for the blind and visually impaired, as well as how to navigate spaces independently, identify objects by touch, use computers with a voice synthesizer, and cook without assistance.
“This school is not just a place where you get an education. Here, I learned how to live,” recalls 63-year-old Tamila Abashia, describing how she learned to wash dishes or make her bed by herself. Abashia, a former student, has been teaching Georgian language and literature in the school for almost 30 years after receiving a master’s degree in Georgian philology at Tbilisi State University.
Georgia’s 15 specialized public schools, addressing disabilities from deafness to cerebral palsy, allow disabled Georgians to get an education they otherwise could not receive in standard public schools. School #202, opened in 1901, is one of six such specialized schools in the capital, Tbilisi.
The Ministry of Education, however, aims to integrate children with disabilities into regular classrooms. Georgia introduced the concept of inclusive education in 2006, in its Law on General Education, and put it into practice in 2014, after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As of December 2017, 6,789 students with special needs were enrolled in Georgian public schools.
Specialized schools like #202 are still needed until inclusive education is fully developed, explains Eka Dgebuadze, who heads the ministry’s department for inclusive education.
A lack of financial resources and trained special-education personnel is among the challenges for inclusive education highlighted in a 2016 study by the Civic Development Institute, a non-profit that promotes equal rights.
It would be “problematic,” to shut down facilities like School #202, notes advocate Gumberidze. Standard schools, for instance, cannot teach the mobility and orientation skills that the blind and visually impaired need.
“No blind or visually impaired student who has attended a regular school has ever been enrolled in a university,” she adds.
Mastering braille, the key to these students’ education, requires ongoing instruction that non-specialized public-school teachers are not equipped to provide.
“You start slowly, but you keep up the pace as you get more practice,” explains Meri Papunaishvili, who has had all of her schooling at Public School #202. Now 17, she will graduate in 2018 and wants to study law.