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UCT on board as innovative LegoBraille Bricks project enters newnational phase

By Niemah Davids


(photo creds: Robin Thuynsma)


If you thought Lego’s interlocking bricks were designed solely to construct

your next colourful building display project on your living room floor, think

again!


These much-loved, brightly colored building bricks that nurture creativity and encourage an overactive imagination also help blind and visually impaired children to read. And thanks to a ground-breaking project, spearheaded by the Lego Foundation, in partnership with the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Including Disability in Education in Africa (IDEA), and Blind SA, blind and visually impaired children in South Africa will now have an opportunity to put it to the test. The extended pilot was launched at the Museum of Childhood on Tuesday, 5 March 2024.


The Lego Braille Bricks (LBB) project is a playful methodology that teaches Braille to children who are blind or visually impaired. Each colorful Lego brick is molded with studs that correspond to numbers and letters in the Braille alphabet and also include a corresponding printed symbol or letter.


The concept aims to level the playing field between sighted and blind children because it allows them to play and learn together. The extended pilot project will be trialed and tested in four schools in the Western Cape and Gauteng, and if successful, is set to fast-track inclusive education for blind and visually impaired learners and capacitate teachers’ competencies in the country. The concept of learning through play will also assist with teaching and learning Braille literacy in a fun and engaging way.


“We believe this project holds immense promise in shaping the future of inclusive education and fostering a more equitable learning environment.” - Dr Richard Vergunst, research officer at IDEA.


(photo creds: Robin Thuynsma)


Expanding the project

The LBB project was piloted in 2022 and implemented in partnership with

BlindSA, an independent consultant, as well as four schools and 11 practitioners who were trained in the LBB concept. Following the initial training session, Dr Vergunst said practitioners were given roughly two months to introduce LBB in their classrooms.


Based on the introduction, research indicated that children enjoyed the concept and practitioners considered it a “valuable tool in the South African context”. He said the first pilot project confirmed participants’ interest and engagement and created a space for its extension. So, the next phase gives the project wings to fly and will expand the initiative to ensure it reaches additional teachers, auxiliary staff and blind and visually impaired learners in the country.


Championing holistic child development through play

According to Reilly Ross, the Lego Foundation’s senior programme specialist for South Africa, the foundation’s mission is clear: “We really want to unlock every child’s potential through the transformative power of play. We firmly believe that play is not just recreation, but a fundamental driver for children’s learning, growth and well-being.”


She described the LBB project as an innovative experience that merges the tactical nature of Lego bricks with the Braille alphabet – empowering blind children to cultivate literacy and holistic skills. And more than fostering a love for learning, Ross said Lego hopes that the project will nurture a sense of belonging and equal opportunity among children.


“Over the next decade, we commit to working hand in hand with our partners like you to ensure enduring impacts for children from birth to 12 – fostering quality learning experiences for children. Together we’ll cultivate robust relationships to impact playful learning into the fabric of children’s growth and development,” she said.


An exciting initiative

Delivering his closing remarks, Jace Nair, the CEO of BlindSA, said his organization is excited for the second phase of the project and looks forward to witnessing its success and national scale-up in due course. To ensure it does well and maintain its longevity in the country, he said getting the right delegates on board to understand the concept and its benefits for blind and visually impaired learners is essential.


Nair encouraged representatives from the national and provincial departments of Basic Education and school management teams to join the conversation and to develop an understanding of what LBB is all about. In addition, he said, advocating parents of blind and visually impaired learners for their buy-in is as important. “Parents play a very important role in the lives of our children and how we bring them on board to support this campaign of including Braille literacy for young people [in schools],” Nair said.


(photo creds: Robin Thuynsma)


“I think we want to see it taking place in all our schools in the country and we believe [it] also offers a unique opportunity for us to fast-track inclusive education so, that our children [entering] the foundation phase can go to mainstream schools and teachers there will be capacitated, so that these children can be integrated into mainstream schools at an early age. And having Braille and print on the Lego bricks will make it easier for that integration to take place.”


Others who contributed to the afternoon programme included Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences; Professor Roshaan Galvaan, the head of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; Professor Judith McKenzie, the director at IDEA; and Chantal Samuels, research coordinator at IDEA.

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