Build a better future for deaf schoolchildren or risk losing a generation of potential

Read how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the education and lives of deaf young people.

March 02, 2022 by Joanna Clark, Deaf Child Worldwide
4 minutes read
DRM providing home-based support

The pandemic has been a tremendously difficult time for children and young people. The closure of schools for so long left many of them relying on Zoom calls, TV broadcasts and online classes to access their education.

This has led to unprecedented challenges, not least for those who find these lessons difficult to understand or don’t even have the devices to log on.

For deaf schoolchildren in the developing world, it can often be both, with the potential consequences both long-term and far-reaching.

With this in mind, Deaf Child Worldwide (DCW) commissioned a study to find out more about how the pandemic has impacted on the education and lives of deaf young people. Focusing on deaf schoolchildren in West Bengal and carried out in partnership with DCW’s partners in the region, it paints a bleak picture.

Online learning was simply not an option for them

Most deaf learners were able to access a smartphone to continue their learning remotely, but very few had access to a TV, the medium through which many government lessons were transmitted during the pandemic. Almost a third had no access to any devices at all, meaning online and hybrid learning was simply not an option for them.

To make matters worse, just one in five had any direct contact with a teacher. As a result, the majority of them were effectively cut off from their education for many months.

It became very clear to the researchers that NGOs – namely, DCW’s partner organizations - were having to step in and provide the support that deaf children had been lacking.

They achieved this through learning centers, which provided specialist teachers or qualified community members, often supported by community-based rehabilitation workers and deaf role models, to develop teaching materials and help with communication.

Without those learning centers, deaf learners would have had little or no educational support during the pandemic, leaving them with a monumental struggle to catch up.

Some may never have managed to catch up, with profound and potentially lifelong consequences.

In fact, the support provided by partners was identified as being more helpful than that from schools. The learning centers were the most preferred and accessed sources of support, and almost all the deaf learners surveyed said they were able to understand the lessons there.

A range of recommendations for education policymakers and funders

In response to the findings, DCW has proposed a range of recommendations for education policymakers and funders which, if put into practice, could significantly improve the prospects of deaf schoolchildren:

  • Ensure digital learning is accessible for all learners, including those with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Invest in training teachers, so that they are equipped with the right skills and knowledge to teach deaf children.
  • Provide additional support to deaf students at school and in the community that recognizes their specific needs.
  • Conduct further research to understand how deafness intersects with other factors that lead to disadvantage.

The impact of the pandemic on these deaf young people’s education has been nothing short of disastrous. They’ve had to contend with a lack of access to technology, inaccessible learning materials, inadequate support from teachers and the crushing isolation of lockdown.

They feel badly let down by a school system they relied on to build a better future and are now left with the hugely challenging task of trying to recoup what they’ve missed.

More research is needed into the impact of the pandemic on deaf education across the world. Yet there are already serious concerns that the picture painted by the deaf young students of West Bengal will, to a greater or lesser extent, be shared by deaf young people in many other regions.

This is an issue of huge importance, since it means that there may be a great many more deaf learners around the world whose education has been similarly damaged.

Educational policymakers and funders in the developing world are now discussing the lessons of lockdown and drawing up plans for the future. DCW urges all of them to grasp the opportunity to build a better future for their deaf schoolchildren, otherwise an entire generation of potential is at risk.

Deaf Child Worldwide (DCW) is the UK's leading international charity for deaf children in developing countries. DCW works with partners in developing countries, enabling deaf children and young people to be fully included in their family, education and community life.

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The COVID-19 pandemic should serve as an opportunity to re-think how emergency education planning can be inclusive of children with disabilities. Most especially in developing countries where children with disability find it difficult to access quality education mostly due to infrastructure and logistics deficit. Even without a crisis like the COVID-19, disabled kids in most developing countries will likely end up on the street as beggar's. Education is one of the surest way to guarantee future success and financial independence for most disabled kids. For this reason it is imperative that we use this crisis as basis to improve educational systems and build disabled-friendly infrastructures.
Also in developing countries, government, NGOs, educational policy makers, etc., should adopt other means of conducting online education aside using the internet and mobile devices or laptop. Television, radio, community centres are but a few affordable and accessible options.
Makin learning more inclusive for children with disabilities now and in the future is a must.

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