According to The Standard, visually impaired pupils will soon have improved supply of textbooks just like their sighted counterparts, thanks to the work of Sister Catherine Jackson, OP, a Harare-based Catholic nun.

When many local publishers were jostling over a government printing contract to supply school textbooks under the US$70-million government-UNICEF Education Transition Fund (ETF), not many remembered blind pupils.

“I went to Education minister [David] Coltart and asked him if they had plans to also address the appalling levels of learning materials for visually impaired pupils,” Sister Catherine of the Dorothy Duncan Braille Library and Transcription Service said. “He told me of the various problems the government was facing in trying to cater for the children and we offered our assistance which they accepted.”

The centre, which offers a library service to blind children from all over Zimbabwe, is in the process of printing 3,200 Braille textbooks for four core subjects for use in over 60 schools with visually impaired pupils.

Minister Coltart said government’s National Braille Press in Mt Pleasant had no capacity to print the books as its equipment broke down and there was no money to buy spare parts.

He said while the supply of textbooks to schools deteriorated over the past 10 to 15 years, there was nothing done for blind students.

Many schools resorted to the Dorothy Duncan library where they are allowed to borrow books on a term basis free of charge.

For a Braille book to be produced, a conventional copy for the sighted has to be produced first. The hard copies are scanned or typed from cover to cover. The text is then put on a CD. Some software programmes are then used to transcribe the text to Braille.  Sister Catherine said the process to print the ETF textbooks was progressing well despite various technical faults and lack of funds.

A former teacher in Zambia and Zimbabwe, Sister Catherine founded the library 20 years ago after partially losing her sight. “She is one of our unsung heroes who go unmentioned when politicians get all the praise,” said Coltart about Sister Catherine.