Overcoming barriers to learning: a case study


We know that our Cambridge schools have high expectations of all students – and that students’ learning needs might be numerous and varied. The challenge for teachers is to help ensure any challenge their students face doesn’t become a barrier to learning.

Celine Lean Yew Lin, joined Methodist College Kuala Lumpur in July 2016 to embark on her Cambridge International A Levels in Law, Economics, English Literature and Psychology.

Celine, 19, lost her sight when she was four-and-a-half years old due to Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia (APML), which resulted in retinal detachment.

“One of the most difficult challenges I face is a lack of accessible resources and facilities for the blind here in Malaysia,” says Celine. “I was the first and only blind student to have enrolled and studied at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur. To begin with, textbooks and references were not available in accessible formats, neither in braille, electronic text nor audio recording. This was made even more challenging where graphics are concerned—economics, for example, has numerous diagrams. And while other students can easily pick any book off a shelf for reference, I had to find other means of studying, such as searching on the internet and asking for assistance with reading.

“Methodist College Kuala Lumpur did its utmost to support me. They were always willing to learn and try their best to provide me with equal opportunity of education and the ability to pursue my goals. I generally had the same classes as other students and participated in activities and tasks with my classmates. Lecturers also sent me their lecture slides, typed out handouts and notes into Word documents, described on-screen graphics, crafted tactile diagrams and so on. And just as they do for any other student, they welcomed my enquiries outside of lessons if I needed further assistance and clarification.

“There is so much I loved about the college. One of the highlights was the friendliness and dedication that the network of the college showed me. Their infinite concern for my welfare and their earnest desire to assist and support me throughout my Cambridge International A Levels was most admirable.”

Last November, Celine won an Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award, having gained the highest mark in Malaysia in the June 2017 examinations for Cambridge International AS Level Law. She took her A2 exams in the November 2017 examination series – less than a year and a half after she started her courses.

“It was an honour to receive the award but I have to admit that it was also terrifying in a way, as it added a certain pressure and worry about my performance in the Cambridge International A Level examination, which I had completed by the time of receiving this honour.”

Exam conditions are key to ensuring that Celine isn’t put at a disadvantage. She says: “I am given the stipulated extra time, a separate room for the examination, question papers in braille from Cambridge International, and my own invigilator.”

Celine gained two A* grades and two A grades at Cambridge International A Level. She has gained a place to read Law at the University of Cambridge.

“In the future, I hope to specialise in championing human rights,” says Celine.

For other students who might have a disability that could be a barrier to learning, Celine says: “Life is a journey that is always full of challenges and difficulties lurking within or beyond our hindsight, haunting and ambushing us at every corner and throughout every pace. It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual with a disability or otherwise. What drives us is the goal and destination we desire, and for that, we must find the meaning and the passion of our lives.”

“You can begin with accepting your disability – or any other shortcoming – and draw on it for strength. You can be the ray of hope that strives for a brighter future in a better world, as there are others in need with issues of concern to be addressed. Find your passion, light it ablaze and give back to society, for every effort counts. So, embrace your troubles and remember that you have a role to play.”

In our latest issue of Cambridge Outlook magazine, schools around the world share their ideas and strategies for providing students with the targeted support they need to help them overcome barriers to learning and develop their potential. The issue also explores the relationship between memory and learning, and has the latest news on syllabus changes, support materials and professional development opportunities.

Source: Cambridge International Examinations