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How can we build an education system for deaf children that is truly inclusive and accessible?

Published Date: 30 Sep 2021

An overview of what we learnt at the fourth Unheard Children webinar

‘'The teachers wore masks so it was difficult to understand what was being taught. I am not able to meet my schoolfriends…I am upset and sitting quietly at home.’’

- Rahul Sadhukhan, a deaf young person from West Bengal, India sharing his experiences of education during the pandemic

This month Deaf Child Worldwide held a webinar delving deeper into the fourth chapter of our flagship report, Unheard Children, which looks at the topic of ‘Education’.

We began by sharing a video we received from our partner organisation Graham Bell Centre for the Deaf in West Bengal, India. In it, a deaf young man, the father of a deaf child and the headmistress of a mainstream school with a deaf pupil shared their perspectives on what education for the deaf has been like before and during the pandemic, and their hopes for the future.

Perspectives on education for the deaf before and during the Covid-19 pandemic

Following the video, we shared some of what we know from working with deaf children for nearly 20 years in developing countries. We said that in our experience deaf children largely often do not go to school at all or they drop out early. Very few make it to secondary school, let alone further education. Of those deaf children who do reach the classroom, many will never get a good education.

We then heard from two speakers sharing the emerging findings from a research project Deaf Child Worldwide is undertaking in West Bengal.

The presentation was given by Corinna Philpott, Measurement Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Advisor for Deaf Child Worldwide, and Pallabi Seth, a researcher in West Bengal who is leading on the data analysis of this work.

Research findings: experiences of deaf learners in West Bengal during the Covid-19 pandemic

Some of the key findings were:

• The move to putting school materials online has been inequitable. A third of deaf young learners do not have access to a device and many have limited access to devices.
• Non-governmental organisations have been filling the gap in educational support.
• Deaf learners prefer sign language videos as a method of learning.
• Friendship is vital for wellbeing and learning.
• Being female is a key factor for disadvantage. Girls were much more likely to not have their own device or to receive help with their studies from their family.

After the presentation, we heard from an expert panel. Pallabi Seth was there to talk to the West Bengal research findings and she was joined by Lorraine Wapling and Georgine Auma.

Georgine is the director of eKitabu, a business which works to deliver accessible content for quality education in local languages at a low cost. Georgine has previously worked in education as the directors of studies at the Ngala Secondary School for the Deaf.

Lorraine has over twenty years’ experience working in international development. Most of her work has focused on improving access to education and health for children and adults with disabilities in countries around Africa, Asia and the Pacific. She has a particular interest in deaf education and is currently finishing a PhD looking into the language challenges faced by deaf children in Kenya when they first start school.

Lorraine and Georgine are both deaf.

Unheard Children: Education panel

Topics covered included:
• How can mainstream schools better support deaf pupils?
• How early should we start educating deaf children?
• Why is socialisation so important for deaf young people and how can we build on this in the future?
• Why had we not planned for deaf children’s education during a pandemic?
The final webinar in the Unheard Children series will be on the topic of Independence and takes place on 21 October. Click here to take part.