Tartu Emajoe School contacts:
Address: Vabaduse pst 14, Tartu 51004, Estonia
Fax: + 372 742 3727
Headmaster Kristel Mets
Phone: +372 742 3727, + 372 527 8069
In Estonia, every child has the right to receive basic education at nearby school. Sometimes it is not so easy to follow this principle. The visual impairment is one of the possible obstacles. The frequency of this disability is not so high, but it is estimated that about two children from thousand are visually impaired. Loss of vision causes special educational needs.
Tartu Emajoe School
In Estonia, there is only one special state school for the blind and visually impaired – Tartu Emajoe School. Visually impaired children from all over Estonia study at our school. It takes 10 study years for basic education and 3 additional years for obtaining secondary education. Our curricula are the same as in general mainstream schools, but with one extra year in elementary school. For pupils studying by simplified curriculum one extra study year has been introduced since September 2005. The number of visually impaired students has decreased during last five years. In 2009/2010, there are 61 pupils studying at our school, more than a half of them are living at our boarding house. There are 14 different forms at school, 8 of them are compound classes.
A lot of attention is paid to the development of new curricula to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired pupils.
Pupils from Tartu study in full-day groups. Our curriculum includes a number of specific subjects such as orientation and mobility, activities of daily living, and Braille. From 5th grade our pupils can learn woodwork, furniture restoration, sewing, weaving, wickerwork, typewriting and computer science.
Leisure time is filled with different kinds of activities. At our school, there are several hobby groups which are very popular among our pupils. Every year we organize a lot of extra curriculum activities. Some of them like celebrating the school's anniversary, white cane day, sports day etc have already become traditional. We have carried through several students' exchange programmes.
We are very interested in developing our school and study environment. A lot of attention has been paid to keeping in pace with the new technology developments. Information communication technology has opened a new horizon in the education of the blind and visually impaired, and we recognize our special role in introducing it in Estonia.
The teachers of Tartu Emajoe School are well qualified and have a lot of expertise in teaching blind and visually impaired students. Our school is ready to counsel the teachers of visually impaired pupils from other schools, and provide special services for pupils.
Co-operation and network – the important tools in school development
Tartu Emajoe School has a unique position in the education of the blind and visually impaired in Estonia, The efforts made for school development have influence on the educational opportunities and even life quality of all people with visual impairment in Estonia. Being the only special state school for the pupils with blindness means that the school is responsible also for implementing the official inclusive educational policy. Being connected with the Estonian community of the blind for so many decades means that the school is responsible also on the community of the blind and visually impaired and has to work in the interest of that small and vulnerable group of people.
Efficient co-operation and creating well-functioning network are needed for fulfilling these responsibilities successfully. There are three main co-operational and networking levels:
- personal network;
- institutional network;
- international network.
Personal network is meant for creating social support for the pupil with visual impairment. A lot of different people, including family members have an important role in it.
Institutional network means that a well-functioning co-operation is needed between different institutions. Some of them are educational institutions – the most important partner is certainly the Ministry of Education. Considering the fact that our pupils have eye problems, also the contacts with eye clinics are necessary. Very important institutional partners are those providing rehabilitation and social services governed by the Ministry of Social Affairs. A good client centred approach should be implemented for educational and social rehabilitation. The co-operation needs to be paid a lot of attention to avoid gaps and double-book working with the same pupil / client.
International co-operation is the only way for keeping in pace with the developments in the field of education of blind and visually impaired. The know-how and development curricula are getting extremely important. We do hope that the international contacts with the institutions from Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA etc will continue and the co-operation will be mutually beneficial.
Special school for the blind and visually impaired and its role in inclusive education
There are quite a few pupils with visual impairment who can manage well with sufficient support and proper guidance in mainstream schools. The presumptions of their success are: early intervention; acceptance of the disability by the pupil, by his/her parents, peers and teachers; good social skills; good results at school and ability to work; support to the mainstream teachers provided by the special teacher qualified in the field of visual impairment and blindness.
In Estonia, the special teachers of blind and visually impaired pupils are mainly working in Tartu and Tallinn. The mainstream teachers and special teachers share the common concern how to create the best possible learning environment. Efficient cooperation is needed for achieving this goal.
Tartu Emajoe School, as the only state school for the blind and visually impaired in Estonia, has declared its mission considering this special position. According to the mission Tartu Emajoe School cares for all visually impaired children in Estonia and works for the improvement of their educational opportunities.
For fulfilling the mission and supporting the educational inclusion it is necessary to expand Tartu Emajoe School into a modern school-centre. This state owned school-centre would function as a school and a recourse / support centre providing the education on primary and secondary level and also wide range of services connected with the education of blind and visually impaired both in special and mainstream environment.
There are some experiences at our school supporting this kind of development. Our teachers have counselled integrated pupils, their parents and their teachers. The main problem has been a lack of formal structure responsible for that and holistic system.
In 2000 a non-profit foundation The Support Center for Tartu Emajoe School was founded to improve the educational opportunities of blind and visually impaired. It worked in tight cooperation with Tartu Emajoe School. The experiences obtained by the support center during 2000 - 2005 highlighted the need for wide range of services in the field of educational and social rehabilitation. These practical experiences are very useful for further development and creating a governmental support / counselling centre for the blind and visually impaired students. It also proved that importance and necessity of holistic approach and involvement of educational authorities.
In 2008, the Estonian Ministry of Education has launched a three-year project on creating a system of educational counselling of children with special needs. There will be counselling centres established in every county and in addition two special centres – one for hearing disability and the other for visual impairment created in Estonia.
The Estonian State School for the Blind – Tartu Emajoe School has been involved in this project since 1st January 2009 as a centre specialized in the field of visual impairment. Counselling sessions are available for the children with blindness and low vision all over Estonia, for their parents, teachers, educators and other specialists.