For the second year in a row, students of Fundamental & Computer Linguistics and Philology have been helping blind school students prepare for intellectual competitions. Tatiana DobrokhotovaElena Zayats
Oksana Osadchaya, a blind HSE University student. She translates them into braille, which can then be used in the classroom. The classes are organized in small groups or individually, once or twice a week, in three subjects: Russian language, literature, and linguistics.
Oksana Osadchaya, photo by Mikhail Dmitriev
‘In 2017, we met Elena Gorelik and Tatiana Golenisheva-Kutuzova from the Teaching Excellence Centre. Initially, we were going to adapt our HSE Olympiads, but eventually we understood that the range of competitions can and must be expanded’, said Elena Zayats. So they started preparing the children for the National and Moscow school student competitions.
‘As you become more experienced, you understand that there are a lot of issues that you don’t initially consider. For example, the HSE Olympiad in English includes images, which cannot be translated into braille. Some philological texts include graphs, tables, and poems, which also can’t be translated’, Tatiana Dobrokhotova said, ‘That’s why we can’t say that the competition is adapted for the visually impaired, and we have to do it every year, while it gets easier as we get more experience, of course’.
This year, the HSE University students’ protégées won prizes at the National Competition in literature and Russian language, the Moscow School Student Competition in philology, and recieved diplomas at the HSE Olympiad.
Two of this year’s graduates are going to apply to HSE University. The Faculty of Humanities is prepared for that: today it teaches two blind students.
According to Elena Zayats, there are certain specifics in the learning process, particularly in terms of technology. Special screen reading software used by visually impaired students is unable to process PDF documents and images, so if a lecturer has a lot of presentations and visual materials in their course, they have to think in advance about how to deliver them to the students. For example, they can send out the information in advance in a format that is readable by the software, or reconsider the information delivery method.
Fortunately, there are a lot of technologies existing for blind people today. Special programmes transform text into braille, and all you have to do is to proofread it. The faculty owns a special braille printer, and a braille display, which helps students ‘see’ the lecture without screen reading software.
‘We were worried when the kids started learning languages, both ancient and modern. But luckily, we didn’t have any major issues: even Ancient Greek, Latin and Old Slavonic have been successfully converted’, said Elena Zayats.
‘It’s great to see that blind school students are making real progress’, Tatiana shared her thoughts, ‘We are now involved in their career guidance, we bring them together with different experts and teachers who talk to them about their fields of research and professions that they might be able to pursue after graduating from university. This is important, since the kids and their parents still have difficulties imagining what they can do in life’.
Photo courtesy of Ilya Dneprovsky
Ilya Dneprovsky is one of the school pupils who took lessons from HSE students. Thanks to these lessons, he has won prizes at the National Competition in literature, Moscow School Student Competition in philology, and received a 1st-class diploma at the HSE Olympiad in philology.
Ilya has finished the 9th grade and is going to apply to HSE University, to study philology or foreign languages. He said that felt no difficulties during the competitions: ‘Since we live in the 21st century, we are allowed to use computers to record our answers. This fact balances the lack of sense of sight and allows us to be just as productive as sighted school students’.
‘Initially, many people were skeptical. We were told it makes no sense for these kids to take part in competitions: they would be better going to a vocational school and learning more practical skills’, Elena Zayats admits, ‘Later, everyone noticed how talented these kids are, and that they are ready to be included in the joint community with all the other prospective students’.
By Anna Reznikova