An EENET meeting to discuss Deaf issues in the South

September 12-13 2001. Hulme Hall, University of Manchester


An EENET seminar was organised in 1999 to discuss some of the controversies and dilemmas surrounding the education of Deaf children in countries of the South. The seminar was entitled, "Inclusion and Deafness" and was held at the University of Manchester. The seminar report has become one of the most downloaded documents from EENET's web site over the last two years. Since the creation of a separate section on the web site entitled 'Deafness', there has been a huge increase in correspondance on Deaf issues.

The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education (1994) promoted the inclusion of disabled children in education. However it makes a very strong statement about the education of Deaf children. Article 21 of the Framework states that: "Owing to the particular communication needs of Deaf and Deaf/blind persons, their education may be more suitably provided in special schools or special classes and units in mainstream schools."

The harsh economic reality for most countries in the South, however, prevents the building of separate provision for Deaf children. A tiny minority of Deaf children are currently educated in specialist schools or informally integrated into mainstream schools. The vast majority are excluded from education of any kind.

It is EENET's mission to promote the sharing of information and ideas about the education of marginalized groups worldwide. There are many examples of locally-developed education initiatives for Deaf children which deserve attention and publicity. Through the newsletter, web site and seminars examples of instructive practice can be shared between Southern countries working in similar contexts, and from South to North. This will help to prevent the imposition of Northern solutions on to Southern problems.

Initially the meeting in September 2001 was advertised as a seminar entitled, "Deafness, Education and Development". However many participants were unable to attend. It was decided to go ahead with the meeting of a smaller number of participants, who would act as a planning committee for a future larger seminar.

Two presentations were made at the meeting: one focused on South India; the other on initiatives in Afghanistan and Somaliland. The presenters' names have been omitted.

The Education of Deaf Children in South India:
a Deaf person's perspective

A presentation was given by a Deaf person who has made two visits to India to contribute to work with Deaf people of all ages. She visited schools as part of her tour. It is important to think of India as a collection of very different states, rather than a country, as standards vary enormously. However here are some impressions from the visits:

Nurturing Deaf communities in Afghanistan and Somaliland

Every Deaf association, wherever it is, goes through a similar developmental plan.*

While this is true of Deaf associations, it is also true of the development of education for Deaf children. The quality of this development will impact upon the lives of Deaf adults. Therefore:

…all depend on the quality of the teachers of Deaf children. Without good education for Deaf children, progress is held up in the Deaf community as a whole.

A 5-year project to promote the development of sign language and interpreting services has been running in 5 African countries, supported by the Finnish Deaf association. The least satisfactory results appear to have been seen in Malawi, where:

In the area around Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, the Deaf community and education of Deaf children are flourishing. In Boroma, in Somaliland, by contrast, awareness of Deaf issues is only just beginning because of the lack of a community of Deaf adults. Both countries are faced with similar challenges in terms of poverty, geography and a poor infrastructure.


When the school for Deaf children was set up in Jalalabad in 1992, there was a significant number of Deaf adults, most of whom had been educated in Pakistan, but who had a strong Afghan identity. They have had regular input into the development of the school. Two Deaf adults are on the staff and have trained teachers in sign language. When Deaf people are present, sign language is used automatically. The pressure to produce a sign language dictionary came from the Deaf adults. The third edition is about to be produced.

Schools were also set up in 14 villages. Some began under trees. Where school buildings exist, they are used in the afternoons, when the main school day has finished. The Deaf children therefore use the same buildings, equipment and teachers, but they are educated separately. The teachers are happy because they receive a government salary in the mornings and an NGO salary in the afternoons.

Every month a training session takes place for the teachers in Jalalabad. The teachers walk about 8-9kilometres to the main road, where they wait for transport to Jalalabad. They are totally committed to this training. Supervisors go into the schools as often as possible, and where possible, with a Deaf adult. Parents of Deaf children were initially very involved and committed to the education of their children, but recently their interest has diminished.

In the school the current grade 5 class is a homogenous group of very able Deaf boys. It is hoped that they will become the next generation of leaders in the Deaf association and perhaps become community workers. This will help to strengthen the work that has already been done by the Deaf adults educated in Pakistan.


A school for Deaf children was set up in Boroma 4 years ago. It had a difficult start because its founder, a Deaf Somali left the school 2 years ago and returned to Kenya. An Italian health worker took over the responsibility for the school, and since then there has been considerable progress.

It seems that there had never been a school for Deaf children before in Somalia. Those parents who could afford it, sent their children to Kenya. Uganda, Ethiopia, and possibly Yemen. Since the civil war, it seems that all the educated Deaf adults have fled to these neighbouring countries and to Europe and USA.

There is therefore no visible Somali Sign Language, if there ever was such a language. The Deaf adults who were educated outside Somalia learned the sign languages of those countries. There is a mention of Somali sign language being used by refugees in Cardiff in Waqaar Ahmed's book, 'Deafness and Ethnicity'. However it is unlikely that this is genuine indigenous Somali sign language. So far there are no reports of Deaf Somali adults who have remained in Somaliland.The school employs 2 Deaf Somali women who were invited to return to Somaliland from Kenya by the Italian health worker. The Somali teachers in the school for Deaf children have been sent on a study tour to schools in Uganda and Kenya as part of their ongoing training.

The school has 50 children. A small number are boarders in private homes. Parents are very committed to their children's education. There is tremendous pressure on the school's founder to take in ever increasing numbers of children. However it has been agreed that they should wait until they have a group of Deaf adults who can help support the expansion of the school and the opening of other schools. It is hoped that the grade 4 class will become the first group of educated Deaf men and women in Somaliland who will form the basis of the first Deaf community.

There has been pressure from the parents of hearing children to allow their children to enter the school for the Deaf. They recognise that the Deaf children are receiving a very good education. The Italian health worker has also set up a school for the children of hospital staff. This raises the possibility of influencing change in the way that hearing children are educated. The methods used in the education of Deaf children can, simply by example, provide teachers in mainstream schools with additional strategies for communicating clearly with their pupils.

The invisibility of Deaf people in the absence of education

In both Jalalabad and Boroma educated Deaf adults were absent from the community. In Jalalabad they returned from Pakistan with a reasonable level of education and are now helping the Deaf community to flourish. In Somaliland a group of young Deaf adults are being nurtured so that they can make their contribution in future.

Pascal Mutabazi, from the Uganda National Association of the Deaf, has written about the Deaf genocide in Rwanda. Large numbers of Deaf people were killed as part of the civil war, but many more, it seems, have run away. Many are still likely to be in hiding. Pascal is concerned about the future of Deaf culture and Rwandan sign language in a situation where the number of Deaf people has been dramatically reduced.

However it is not only in situations of conflict that Deaf adults have become invisible, or made themselves invisible. It seems that in the absence of education, Deaf adults tend to become invisible. On a visit to Malta in 1990, where is no civil conflict, it was observed that Deaf adults appeared to have become invisible because they were given, or felt they had, no place in mainstream society. Deaf people who have been educated are less likely to make themselves invisible.

Issues arising

Overall concerns

Deaf adults




* This section is taken from a paper given by Doug Alkirk at a Deaf Church Conference in 1994.