Thursday, March 17, 2011

Audit of Blind School

As some of you may know, in August 2010 Biome in collaboration with Kilikili and Artist Sanjay Singh, created a mural at the Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind (SMRAB), Bangalore. A group from Auroville and design student Nachiappan also created several other play spaces incorporating sound as a stimulus for the blind students. The details of all these can be viewed here:

Few weeks back Kilikili decided to go back and review the project to see how it was faring. The idea of this audit was to:
1. To understand how the play equipments are being used by the children in SRMAB
2. To understand how much the play equipments are contributing to enhancing the education and recreation of the children.
3. To understand how the equipments have fared and what have been the issues needing correction.
4. To understand our major learnings for replication.
5. To assess the utility, durability, usage and popularity of the equipment

Understanding the above would help us in future projects.

The Audit team, consisted of Mr Sampathkumar, a volunteer with Kilikili and senior executive at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Nachiappan, the artist who designed most of the sound installations, and Karan from Biome. The team interacted with:

1.Ms Geetha Lakshmi, teacher and sister of Late Tirumoorthy (one of the founders); at length
2.Mr. Srinivasan, founder; briefly
3.A few teachers and support staff – briefly
4.Dharma – A student dancer who had visited US as part of dance troupe; at length
5.Students – over lunch; briefly

The team in addition looked at the training material used – such as marble board to teach Braille, Braille slate to write; various items used to teach texture, shape, size, etc

The feedback we got is as follows:

Textured surfaces

1. Braille Mural
This is quite useful especially for the younger kids (classes 1-4). The current mural has letters in a jumbled order i.e. not in the sequence of ABCD etc and there was a mixed feedback on this. For students who have just learned Braille it could prove to be a little confusing, but for those who know it well, it acts as a nice challenge/test. One of the thoughts was that perhaps we can have both – an “orderly” mural for learning and another jumbled one for fun. But on the whole feed back is good; children often just touch it even as they pass by.

Braille Mural

2. Elephant slide
They play a lot on this and can be left unattended. As a matter of fact, in all the play spaces – old and new, the children are left more or less unguided and manage on their own. Their sense of boundary is very strong and they don't really stray out of the school. The fact that they are quite unguided came as a bit of surprise since in the regular play area there are the kind of structures one would imagine are difficult for blind children to negotiate. These are like the ones we find in normal parks with ladder – like steps (pic below). But apparently all children, including the youngest manage it.

The steps leading upto the slide have two handrails on either side – one in metal and another of concrete. On the metal railing, we had installed some bells but these are gone. The idea was that the bells make musical sounds and let kids know when they are at the top step, as a safety measure. However we find that it is not really required and the children figure it out on their own. The metal handrail was not anchored properly on the top and on the whole they felt that the cement banister was enough. The concrete handrail did show a crack.

Within the slide, there is a small “cove” where children duck in and out (pic below). This is also hugely popular and perhaps will be nice to have more such spaces. We asked if there is any danger of them bumping their heads and so on, but the teacher (Geetha Lakshmi) assured us that this doesn't happen.

Regular playspaces

Elephant slide

3. Shapes wall
This is popular and children play here a lot. The top of this structure is textured and at one point there are some stones (pic) which we thought might be a minor hazard in terms of hurting the kids. However the teacher tells us that the children actually warn each other about this patch of stones, so in a sense it encourages co-operation among them. One idea was to combine this with an outdoor seating space.

Shapes wall

Stone patch

Textured surface

Aural equipment

1.Tubular bells (xylophone)
This is well appreciated and children play with it everyday. The mallet can be shaped differently to suit the children. In terms of maintainence, this needs to be restrung every 8 months or so.

Tubular bells

2. Sound strip
This is hugely popular but due to over enthusiasm and vigorous tugging, a lot of them have broken off. Definitely a desirable item but the durability aspect needs to be looked into. But the structure was intact and two of the items (shells and bamboo) were still serviceable. Teachers also love it but they have to be made more durable, perhaps secured with chains. Might also be better to have them indoors.

Sound strip

3. Gas Cylinder (metal drum)
The carved out gas cylinders are not quite as popular as the sound strip. One of the reasons could be that it is a little difficult to elicit a musical sound from these and requires some hard work. Having said that these did show signs of wear and tear indicating that it is being used to some extent. They are used more by the older and partially sighted kids. To make these more appealing, perhaps the children can be actually shown how to use them. Also while mallets had been provided, they did not last too long. Having strong mallets will help. One advantage of the metal drums is that they are very long lasting and if it can be somehow modified to capture the children's imagination that will be great.

Metal drum made from gas cylinder – signs of wear and tear indicating some usage


1. Swing cum see-saw
This was not used as the rope had given way a few weeks after its installation. It is popular but some design and safety aspects need to be looked into. One problem was of children hitting their heads on the pole. The pulleys also showed rusting. Inverting the hook to avoid injury is to be considered.

Swing cum see-saw

2. Turtles
These are not really popular since they are too low and have rough edges - only the partially sighted children enjoy these. One thought was that perhaps if it was a little higher then it might work since squatting or kneeling cannot be done for any length of time. The turtles themselves are quite richly textured but for some reason have not captured the children's imagination.

Metal turtles

We were told that in general, children up to age of 12 enjoy the items; older children prefer to play cricket with the special ball meant for blind.

Overall, the same set of play items can be used as basis while doing the second project with appropriate modifications to suit the age of children and the space constraints.

Conversation with Dharma – student dancer

Dharma has been dancing for number of years now and is a former student of the school. He can see partially and knows different dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, folk and Deepa Jyoti (the one done with fire).
He performs on a professional basis and has visited the USA as part of a 3 month tour wherein he performed at Washington DC, Chicago, Tampa (Florida), New York, San Francisco and many more cities. Yes he rattled off a list of places that pretty much covered the entire country!
These are rehearsed performances so we asked him how do they manage if the stage size is different from the one he is used to? Dharma claimed that this is not a problem - they just take measurements and get a feel of the space beforehand.
We asked him if it was cold there and he said yes it was, but they returned just around the time that winter was setting in.
Wherever they went, the Telugu association gave them all the support; food was not a problem. They did more of folk dance and performances were generally 2 hours.
He now teaches dance at the SMRAB and is also pursuing his graduation by correspondence.

Conversation with the gardener

There is a small nursery/garden area where the kids also play. The gardener said that playing with mud and gardening gives the children immense pleasure. We asked them if guiding the kids is a problem, for instance while planting how do they know where to place the plant? Whereupon he showed us a bunch of saplings that had been planted by them and these were absolutely ordered and symmetrical.