Every Intervention Counts: SMEC Donates Computers to Tswellang School
Tswellang LSEN School is a school for physically disabled learners in Bloemfontein that has recently received a donation of two desktop computers from top engineering design company, SMEC.
Commitment to Empowerment
SMEC is a highly successful South African engineering firm that employs over 1,000 South African citizens in the local offices. The company is a Level 3 BBBEE contributor with a strong commitment to transformation. The SMEC employee-owned empowerment trust has ownership vesting in South African Previously Disadvantaged Individuals (PDI). SMEC also awards bursaries and scholarships to PDI students and is actively involved in student skills development.
In line with this commitment to empowering previously disadvantaged individuals, SMEC chose to donate two computers to a school for learners with special education needs. While two computers may not have significant impact in an ordinary school, for a school such as Tswellang, this donation will change the lives of at least two children, and have an impact on the lives of many learners for years to come.
Learners at Tswellang School have a variety of physical disabilities, including Cerebral Palsy, Muscle Dystrophy and Congenital Deformities. Due to the nature of their disabilities, many learners have poor control of their bodies, severe involuntary movements of their arms and legs and often have difficulty speaking. This poses as severe barriers to learning as most of these learners are unable to participate in the classroom and unable to write or answer questions, leading to exclusion and frustration for both learners as well as staff members.
Early in 2013, several Tswellang staff members attended the training on assistive devices at the Vodacom Resource Centre in Thaba ‘Nchu. During the training, participants were given the opportunity to work with the technology hands-on, which was a first time experience for many. This experience opened the Tswellang staff members’ eyes to the possibilities at their own school.
Preparation is Key
Two of the staff members who attended the training, Helena Vermeulen and Johan van Niekerk, were so motivated by the training that they returned to school and immediately began training the other staff members on how to use technology. Although the school had very limited funding and few ICT resources, the staff members were not discouraged, believing that they would find a way to get the technology and it was important that the teachers be prepared for when the technology arrived. “It was truly inspiring and because of this opportunity Vodacom and Edit Microsystems created for us, we want to now train as many of our staff members as possible, as we have seen the difference it can make in the lives of our learners!” said Vermeulen.
Assistive Technology Opens Doors
The teachers realised that assistive technology could help include learners with significant barriers in classroom activities and help them to write and communicate more effectively. Vermeulen states that “Just as we aim to provide each learner who is unable to walk with a wheelchair /walking aid, we want to provide learners who are unable to write or have trouble communicating with the necessary assistive technology to help them overcome these barriers.”
The donation of the computers means that two learners who have been identified as having the greatest need will now have access to a means of communication and information that was not previously possible. The learners will make use of specially adapted keyboards that have larger keys to help them write. Since these learners may not have a verbal means of communication, these computers could allow them to finally communicate with their teachers and peers. The learners can use the computers to give their answers to assessment questions, participating more fully in the learning process. Schools like Tswellang school place a much higher value on technology than their ordinary counterparts, and will take great care of these two computers for many years, refurbishing them as needed, and making them available for future learners.
Tswellang school are most grateful to SMEC and their other donors for their generosity and ongoing support. Thanks to this, and other donations, along with the dedication and hard work of staff like Vermeulen and van Niekerk, learners in Tswellang School will have greater opportunities to achieve their potential through access to technology.