Education For All Deaf children by 2015?
The majority of deaf children are excluded from any kind of education in the income-poor countries of the South for economic, cultural and logistical reasons. They are faced with the stark choice of attending the local school, where they are likely to fail unless efforts are made to include them, or having no formal education.
A tiny minority of deaf children are educated in special schools and units, as recommended by the Salamanca Statement. The Statement further recommends that: “The importance of Sign Language as the medium of education among the deaf should be recognised and provision made to ensure that all deaf persons have access to education in their national Sign Language.”
Education in residential special schools is an expensive option – unaffordable for most countries. Residential schools diminish the role of the family, and deaf children tend to become dislocated from their home culture and way of life. This has far-reaching consequences for their social inclusion as adults, especially in income-poor countries where families provide individual family members with long-term economic security. The danger of education in ‘special units’ in mainstream schools is that it can sometimes increase segregation, rather than promote integration.
The ‘Deaf Dilemma’
Sign Language can only develop when deaf people come together. But segregated education does not promote inclusion. Yet without an effective means of communication, such as Sign Language, it is extremely difficult for deaf children to be included in their families and communities, or in education.
“You cannot educate Deaf children without Deaf adults.”
The way forward
Deaf adults are so often overlooked as the most obvious human resource available for the education of deaf children. The over-professionalisation of ‘special education’ has made it difficult for deaf people to obtain the necessary qualifications to become teachers. An ability to communicate fluently in Sign Language has not been considered a necessary qualification. It is only in the last 10 years or so in the UK that the importance of involving deaf adults in the education of deaf children has been recognised. Willingness to include deaf adults in the education of deaf children appears to be greater in some African countries, than elsewhere in the world.
The inclusion of deaf adults in schools for deaf children – Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a deaf head teacher has been responsible for starting at least ten schools for deaf children. He currently teaches in Kisangani, and his wife, who is also deaf, teaches in a small school on the other side of the river. 50% of the teachers at Kisangani are also deaf. The head provides in-service training for the teachers, who are mostly ex-pupils and who do not have any formal qualifications beyond whatever was obtained during schooling. Everyone uses Sign Language at all times, and new teachers have to learn as rapidly as possible. There are 130 students who are educated in French and in Zairean Sign Language and the standard of education is very high.
The majority of deaf children will continue to be denied their right to education and access to Sign Language unless schools are made more accessible. This will require a greater willingness by teachers, parents, siblings and school children to learn Sign Language and to recognise the invaluable role that can be played by deaf adults. The challenge of the next 15 years is to work together with deaf adults and existing special schools to promote Sign Language at family and community level so that deaf children can be included in EFA initiatives in their immediate community.
In June 1999 EENET organised a seminar in Manchester to discuss the particular issue of the educational inclusion of deaf children. This article was written by Susie Miles, based on the discussions held at the seminar. The report entitled, “Inclusion and Deafness” is available from EENET, or from the web site, where there is now a section on deaf issues. We are continuing to collect stories and reports which demonstrate efforts to include deaf children and would welcome your contributions.