Hearing impaired, learning deprived

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 25, 2019 02:43 AM IST

There are about 2 million deaf children in the country — a vast majority of who attend only primary schools before dropping out, as oralism, and not the sign language, dominates classroom lessons in most schools for the deaf.

Sixteen-year-old Om Negi, a resident of Ghaziabad, cannot hear since birth. With that also came muteness. So, his hands became his tongue and his eyes his ears. Negi attended a local school for the deaf, and last year, passed class 10. However, practically, that did not help much.

Noida Deaf Society founder Ruma Roka (right) at a remedial class for the hearing impaired.(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT PHOTO)
Noida Deaf Society founder Ruma Roka (right) at a remedial class for the hearing impaired.(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT PHOTO)

“It was very difficult for me to grasp what the teachers were teaching in the class as they did not know sign language much. I do not think the school prepared me for anything,” Negi told HT through a sign language interpreter.

Similarly, 17-year-old Uttam Tiwari says his parents made a conscious decision to put him in a school for the hearing impaired, hoping it would have the infrastructure to teach him, but he was as disappointed as Negi.

“My school in Patna did not have any special facilities for the hearing impaired. We were expected to read lips and speak; every day in class was a struggle,” he said. Tiwari and Negi are now among the 50 others attending remedial classes in Maths and English at the Noida Deaf Society, an NGO, which works for the education of deaf children.

There are about 2 million deaf children in the country — a vast majority of who attend only primary schools before dropping out, as oralism, and not the sign language, dominates classroom lessons in most schools for the deaf.

Disability rights activists say that Indian Sign Language (ISL) should be introduced as an optional language in school curriculum and be recognised as an official language to make education accessible to deaf children.

“Most teachers do not know sign language because of which the deaf cannot understand what they teach. Education for the deaf in India is meaningless without sign language for they are left unable to read or write,” says AS Narayanan, President, National Association of the Deaf (NAD).

Those working with the deaf community said that while the number of schools for the deaf has increased over the years --- there are about 110 government and roughly 600 private schools --- a vast majority of them are pre -primary and primary schools; most do not have teachers trained in sign language; and many provide only vocational training.

The capital has about a dozen schools for the deaf and the only senior secondary, Govt Lady Noyce Senior Secondary School for the Deaf, near Delhi Gate, suffers from utter neglect.

The CBSE-affiliated school has about 550 students, but only has about 25 teachers against a sanctioned strength of 70. While many teachers have retired over the years, no regular appointments have been made in the last 15 years. A large portion of the school premises has been occupied by the social welfare department of the Delhi government for many years.

Though the school claims to take a Total Communication (TC) approach to deaf education, in which they use oral, auditory, written and visual aids in their pedagogy, students say most teachers are not well-versed in ISL and they are expected to lip read the instructions.

About 100 students will be appearing for the senior secondary exams this year. Last year, about 82 appeared for the exam and the school’s pass percentage was about 55 percent.

Principal Akhilesh Kumar, who joined the school in July, refused to comment on the sorry state of affairs prevailing in the school, but a staff member told HT on the condition of anonymity: “The poor academic performance has to do with an acute shortage of teachers, the lack of modern teaching techniques. We only use cards as a visual aid, though by now we should be using multimedia instruction.”

Rajender Pal Gautam, minister for social welfare, says the Delhi government, is trying to resolve all problems at the school. “There is indeed a shortage of teachers. Soon, new contractual teachers will be joining the school. All formalities have been completed. We will also ensure that all of them have proper training in ISL; besides, we will introduce multimedia teaching in classrooms,” said Gautam.

Many deaf students who are studying in mainstream schools too complain of apathetic attitude towards their needs.

Deepak Torase, 19, who attended a regular school till class 10 in Pune, says the teachers there did not pay any special attention to him and he hardly understood anything in the class. His parents hired a private tutor who knew sign language and taught him all the subjects.

Would he advise a deaf child to join a regular school?

“No”, he says emphatically. “I believe that only deaf teachers, well versed in sign language, should teach the deaf.” And Deepak hopes that one day he would be that teacher.

According to Association of Sign Language Interpreters, there are only 500 interpreters in the country. And even they do not get any permanent employment and take up part-time freelance assignments instead. “We have never been engaged by schools to work with students or teachers on sign language. We mostly get freelance interpretation assignments at conferences, meetings, some corporate events, and workshops, ” said Preeti Singh Lang, general secretary, of the Delhi-based association, which has 250 members across the country.

Most regular schools do not have the staff and infrastructure tuned to the needs of the hearing impaired, say disability rights activists. To meet the statuary requirements, they hire special educators, most of who specialise in visual impairment or mental retardation, and not trained to impart education in sign language. “Deaf children need to be mainstreamed. Special educators must know ISL, and the teaching environment in deaf schools should be more visual,” says Ruma Roka, founder Noida Deaf Society.

“Mainstreaming is possible if the teachers could be more sensitive and could pay little extra attention to the deaf students and give visual clues in the class. But, what is equally important is the fact that parents learn the sign language to meet their children’s emotional and educational needs,” says Anita Prasad, director, education Suniye Foundation, a non- government organisation that works for the welfare of the deaf children and runs a pre-school for them.

Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, and experts believe that parents who know sign language find it easier to communicate with their deaf child on a deeper level. According to the World Health Organisation, in the young, hearing loss affects not just academic outcomes, but communication, cognition, behaviour, social-emotional development.

“It is extremely saddening that parents of deaf children do not know Indian Sign language. How can they communicate with their deaf children? How will the deaf children learn how to read and write without communication?” says Narayanan, adding that sign language can bridge the gap between the parent and the child, as both knowledge and communication are a crucial part of any child’s growth.

Narayanan says India is particularly lagging in terms of imparting education and encouraging the hearing impaired.

“There are many deaf people in the USA doing their PhD In India, not one deaf person has got a PhD since Independence,” he said. “Sign language and its effective use have the potential to change that. ISL should be made an official language and be introduced in the curriculum. Thankfully, the current status of the sign language is gradually improving, compared to the past where the very existence of the language was not acknowledged.”

In September 2015, Indian Sign language Research and Training Centre ( ISLRT), an autonomous body under the central government’s Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities was set up after a long struggle by the deaf community for the development and promotion of ISL. It runs outreach programs and short and long-term courses in ISL. Earlier this year, it launched the second edition of the Indian sign language dictionary which lists 6,000 words in Hindi and English along with their corresponding graphic representation. The dictionary has everyday terms, and also legal, medical, and technical terms.

“There has been a stigma associated with sign language. A lot of deaf schools focus on speech therapy rather than sign language. We need to understand that sign language is the key to communicating with a deaf child. Without communication, a deaf child cannot learn and be taught in a classroom. There is certainly a need for greater recognition for Indian sign language,” says Roka.

Deepesh Nair, co-founder of TEACH (Training and Educational Centre for Hearing impaired), a non- government organization which works to facilitate higher education for deaf children says that most deaf students drop out after class 10, and take up vocational subjects because of their inability to develop proficiency in a language. “We help them take up higher education through a structured program in maths and English and make them employable for jobs and career opportunities. We believe that these children can achieve anything.”


    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

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