Integrated pre-school for deaf children Tamil Nadu, South India

Ron Brouillette, CBM International's adviser on hearing-impairment, based in Coimbatore, recently sent us this short report about an integrated English-medium pre-school for deaf children run by an NGO in co-operation with the government in Coimbatore, India. The inclusive pre-school is co-ordinated by Mrs. Dorie Brouillette, together with her co-coordinator, Sabika Dewan and her Deaf teacher assistant Nirmala M. The project is supported by CBM through the local partner Cheran Region Christian Services for the Disabled (CRCS) which is directed by Mr H. Samson.

An innovative Early Intervention (EI) programme started against all odds in August 2002 with two profoundly deaf four-year olds. This EI programme is unique because it uses English as the medium of instruction as well as all components of a total communication approach: 1) speech and speech reading; 2) amplification; 3) sign language; 4) visual aids; and 5) reading and writing. Moreover, the EI centre is located within an English medium government pre-school that dates back to the mid-1800s, and still does not have electricity in most of the rooms.

Everyone doubted the project could find additional deaf students because there are already three well-established early intervention centres for the deaf in Coimbatore (population 1.3 million). Students in these three segregated centres have adequate audiological support and are taught in Tamil, the regional language, through an aural - oral (speech only) approach. These three centres cater for those who can afford the fees, including more than 15 young children in Coimbatore who have been fitted with a cochlear implant. The daunting problem facing many of these students surfaces when they reach primary school with serious delays in language skills. Those who manage to complete the Tamil primary school curriculum, find it extremely difficult to cope with secondary and tertiary education which is conducted mostly in English. The Early Intervention centre was created to demonstrate ways to reduce the language delays.

Two months after opening the English medium Early Intervention centre and pre-school for the deaf, the two deaf Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Workers attached to the CRCS project used their own deaf network and "deaf ways" to find six additional severely-to-profoundly deaf students, all under five, and one of whom is a two-year old boy. It seems that deaf people know the location of even the newest members of their deaf community. In the next six months, the programme grew to 13 students. The programme will re-open for the new school year in June 2003 with 15 students. Most of these children were referred by other deaf adults who enjoy stopping by the pre-school school and volunteering.

The medium of instruction used in the school is unique to South India. The programme uses English and Total Communication with emphasis on speech for those who have that capacity. We find that severely deaf students struggle to speak and speech-read in Tamil which is a difficult tonal language. To assist their speech development, the children go to the nearby Avinashi Deemed University deaf education teacher preparation unit two days per week. There, they integrate with hearing pre-schoolers in regular school activities and additionally receive speech and auditory training in English using the university's well-equipped laboratory. The five deaf students who have good speech potential use an interactive CD-Rom package to learn some speech and speech reading in English. The software was recently developed by a local engineering college under the direction of Sri Manickam the founder of an oral school for the deaf. One of his advisors on the project was Mr. Murali, a dynamic leader of the Coimbatore Deaf Community.

In addition to learning speech, the students use a newly developed interactive CD-Rom of Sign Language in India. It has a vocabulary of 1,600 words presented by Sign Language users through plays and vocabulary-building exercises. The children prefer, however, to learn signs at home using the newly produced picture-sign language book with 500 commonly used words with pictures, and to teach others using an attractive poster on the Indian manual alphabet that decorates a wall of their home. The poster was made in collaboration with Mr. Gopalakrishnan, the deaf sign language master who provided technical assistance for the other sign language learning tools. The deaf CBR workers and the deaf teacher aide visit each student's home every week to tutor the children. The object of the visit is to aid the child's retention of, and further build upon, the language learned in the past 8 months and to serve as role models to the child's family and neighbours. The deaf tutors use grade-specific workbooks to monitor each student's progress.

Parents, who are mostly poor, are invited to attend the programme at least twice a week, but can rarely attend. The family members and neighbourhood children learn more, however, through the visits of the deaf tutors who are teaching not only sign language and language concepts, but also to teach the family how to communicate with and include their deaf child in everyday life.

Ten out of the thirteen students wear a hearing aid. The earmoulds will be produced by deaf as well as hearing technicians. Three students have yet to be fitted, and one child, who is profoundly deaf, refuses to wear a hearing aid so we do not force her. The students wear body-worn hearing aids because of the problems of accessing expensive button batteries for the more effective behind the ear (BTE) type of hearing aids, which may be available soon.

In May 2003 the new Godisa solar charger will be available. The charger will accept the popular size BTE 675 battery and the miniature size 13 battery. The charger also has a cradle for the Godisa line of inexpensive quality hearing aids (www.godisa.com) that are assembled by well trained deaf adults in Botswana, Africa. Deaf adults in the CBM supported CRCS programme have produced body harnesses and dehumidifier bags to absorb moisture from hearing aids during the night. They are now exporting 3,000 of these de-humidifier bags to Godisa. This is one of the first deaf-to-deaf international business exchanges between Africa and Asia. Part of the small income from these products supplements the income for the CRCS deaf staff. Parents are asked to pay something towards the transportation and a small allowance to the CBR workers who visit their home. The parents pay only when they are satisfied with the quality of tutoring.

The results of the first six months' assessment are promising. While none of the students had any schooling prior to September, five are fully prepared for entrance into the upper kindergarten grade; four are ready for the lower kindergarten grade; and four who are still three or four years old will remain in the Early Intervention programme.

One of the major problems faced by the co-ordinators during the development of the project was the low level of written and spoken language among the deaf technicians (who use manual communication). More than 20 deaf adults now attend non-formal education classes daily at the Mahatma Gandhi Adult Education Centre in order to improve their language skills. This was organised by Mr. Murali and is supported by CRCS. In the adult education centre the eager adults learn English and academic subjects. Many have aspirations to re-take the final secondary school exam, Standard Ten. The centre will soon move from its present location in a small room with no electricity to a cooler and more spacious room where they can install the 15 recently donated computers. The deaf group, headed by Mr. Murali, has also produced a website www.indiadeafnews.org. Most of what is described above is on this website.

The deaf workers have found a new confidence and encouragement through their lives as teachers and CBR workers. This love for learning and giving is being caught by a whole new generation who may not have to wait so long for empowerment.

For more information contact:
Ron Brouillette, PhD
CBMI Advisor, Hearing Impairment
Apt. C-2-1, 48 Park Avenue
48 Race Course Road, Coimbatore, TN 641018 INDIA
Phone/Fax: (91 - 422) 212 553
Mobile Phone: (91-984) 315 9032
Email:

 


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