The newly established National Association of the Deaf recently held a pioneering National Consultation on Deaf Education to address the pathetic state of participation of deaf people in India’s education system. Here is a report.
Government officials sat alongside deaf community members on 9 February to discuss education of the deaf from the “Deaf Perspective”. Participants included professionals and experts in the field of Deaf Education as well as prominent members of NGOs from across the disability sector. The workshop did not only offer new ideas, it opened minds and paved the way for future developments that will have historical ramifications for deaf education in India.
The two presentations of the day were led by Dr. Surinder Randhawa from Rourkee and Dr. Madan Vasishta from Gallaudet University, U.S.A. Each session was followed by an open floor discussion in order to allow inputs and suggestions from all members present at the consultation.
The President of the National Association of the Deaf, Arun Rao, opened the consultation and set the scene for the day’s discussion by describing his own experiences as a parent of a deaf child.
Dr. Randhawa’s presentation on the Current Status of Deaf Education in India and Issues of Concern, portrayed the findings of research done for her Ph.D. thesis: ‘A status study of selected special schools for the deaf and identification of intervention areas’. There was overwhelming information about the lack of sensitivity to deaf people and deafness by educators who were more interested in following a dogma than focusing on a child’s overall needs. Teachers were found to have inadequate training, the glaring lack of auditory training equipment in schools that claim to be aural/oral, and the communication chasm unbridgeable, with students only able to communicate with broken words and very few able to speak in sentences as a result.
She stressed that education plays a critical role in a deaf child’s life in order to equip the child with communication skills, academic knowledge and vocational skills along with contributing to his cognitive, social and emotional growth as well as personality development. Yet, her data left the participants aghast at the inadequacy of education being provided to deaf children, filling them with the resolve that something needs to be done to improve the situation.
After lunch, Dr. Vasishta shared his vision about “choices” that should be made available to all deaf children at various ages. He gave a brief description of various options available. These included: Oral, Indian Sign Language, Cued Speech, Cochlear Implant, Segregated Schools, Inclusion, Mainstreaming, Bilingual Education and Total Communication among others. The main focus of the presentation was on looking at deaf children’s strengths and their preferred modalities for communication. And then deciding on the placement. At present, the emphasis is on oral education and other options are offered only after a child “fails” to learn orally. This, said Dr. Vasishta, is not fair to the child as he/she is subjected to educator’s dogmatic beliefs and thus suffers educationally, socially and emotionally.
Dr. Vasishta emphasised that while inclusion was a great idea, including deaf students in public schools with their hearing peers without appropriate support (interpreters, note-takers, tutors, counsellors) would be equivalent to dumping them. He also shared his views about segregated schools. They get a raw deal, however there are several factors for their failure; little or no support is given to staff and most, if not all, students are oral failures. These schools are expected to perform miracles with little resources and with students who have literally “missed the boat.”
At the end of the day, all participants at the consultation summed up their thoughts and ideas for a position paper on Deaf Education for chartering a plan for further action. Several recommendations emerged from this exercise.
These included the need for a mass awareness campaign promoting sign language and the rights of deaf people in general; the need for networking and the sharing of skills, ideas and experience; the need to evolve a credible assessment system to evaluate, assess and certify trainers and trainers of trainers; as well as increasing awareness amongst the educators of the Deaf.
It was stressed that communication was vital and that an early intervention was essential, targeting parents of deaf children as well as sensitising doctors to deafness and the issues involved. Sign language was highlighted as being of vital importance: it was essential to introduce sign language into the education of deaf children in special schools as well as being included in the school curriculum for all.
The role of interpreters was emphasised as being fundamental for a deaf person to be able to fully participate in society, and hence there needed to be more sign language courses available. Moreover, it was stressed that this should all be done with participation of deaf people as the first precondition. As Dr. Randhawa stated at the end of her presentation: ‘Deaf persons themselves need to be included and involved in this process, while making decisions at all levels’.
A follow-up workshop of similar nature is planned to ensure the Plan of Action charted out by this group is put into practice.