At 4 years old, Taskia, who is deaf, was unable to communicate fully with her parents, and unprepared for school. Her parents took her to an early intervention center in Jhenaidah district, Bangladesh, run by AID Foundation and everything changed.
Taskia is now 8 years old. She is able to sit in the classroom, participate in different activities and games and she has started learning Bangla Sign Language. Last year she was admitted to class one at a primary school in Jhenaidah district.
Not only has she flourished at school, she’s also passed every single subject she has studied. Without 4 years of support at the center in Jhenaidah district, there is no way Taskia would have been ready to attend school, let alone pass all her exams.
Starting support early is crucial
From my work with deaf children across the developing world, a key theme that stands out is how important it is to give them a good quality education as early as possible.
The early years of a child are critical for the development of language and speech, which forms the foundation for social and emotional resilience and for the development of literacy skills.
For deaf children this is a particular challenge, as the majority are born to hearing parents who have no previous experience of deafness and who often don’t understand how best to support their child.
All too often deaf children arrive at school with little or no language skills. They are fundamentally not ready to learn. Preschool programs therefore couldn’t be more important for their long-term education.
The power of early intervention for deaf children in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh I have seen first-hand how difficult life is for its estimated 760,000 deaf children. I know too many deaf children who are unable to benefit from school because their language skills are not developed enough before they get there.
When they reach the classroom, teachers are too often unable to communicate with them because they lack the skills and the training and do not understand that the child needs to be helped to develop language before being able to develop literacy skills.
Unfortunately, in Bangladesh no early years support exists for deaf children and their families in poorer areas of the country. To tackle this problem, we have worked with four different partner organizations – AID Foundation, Access Bangladesh Foundation, Songshoptaque and Centre for Disability in Development – to set up early intervention centers for deaf pre-school children that provide language, basic literacy and social interaction skills and support for families.
The early intervention centers aim to create a steady foundation, so these children are in a position to get a good education when they move to primary school.
Putting early intervention into practice
If you visit one of the early intervention centers run by the projects we support, you will see classes in Bangla Sign Language, basic literacy and numeracy skills. Classes also provide opportunities for deaf children to meet other deaf children, often for the first time in their lives, and to develop social skills and a greater sense of identity and confidence. Lessons also include basic skills such as personal hygiene and cleanliness.
At the start, the children and their parents were understandably nervous about what these centers were and how they would help them. But as deaf children started to attend on a regular basis, we have seen them grow in confidence, and we have witnessed their sign language and speech skills develop enormously.
Just as importantly we have watched them make new friends, find inspiration from deaf role models, and benefit from being surrounded by other deaf children who have gone through similar experiences.
As well as helping deaf children, the early intervention centers are a critically important space for parents to meet and support one another.
Parents and family members are taught sign language and we see them become more fluent and confident in their own ability to communicate with their children. Parents can meet other parents and share their frustrations, their problems and their worries.
In particular, mothers of deaf children have played an essential part in the overall success of the early intervention centres. Through our training, they have gained valuable skills which they used to support teachers in the classroom and now help out other deaf children in their local community.
This is just the start
We’ve had challenges. We need to work out how to engage more deaf children in our programs and we need to refine the curriculum so that deaf children get the most out of their time with us, but we know these projects work.
For deaf children who have been through our early intervention centers, 100% move on up to primary school where the majority have been doing as well as their hearing peers.
This isn’t just about getting them into school – it’s about making sure that when they get to school, they are equipped and ready to learn and make the most of the experience.
So while we have more work to do here, it’s been incredible to see the phenomenal impact our early intervention centers have already had on the lives of deaf children in Bangladesh.