Deaf children in poor communities have the right to a world class education too

Read the impact of two projects – in Bangladesh and Kenya - that are making a meaningful impact on deaf children’s education.

January 27, 2020 by Joanna Clark, Deaf Child Worldwide
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5 minutes read
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Deaf children learn signing at an early intervention center in Bangladesh
Deaf children learn signing at an early intervention center in Bangladesh
Deaf Child Worldwide

In the international development community, there is a lot of talk about how we can create a genuine, meaningful, inclusive education for disabled children. It’s one of the great injustices still to be tackled.

While significant strides have been made to get more children, in particular girls, into school, disabled children in some of the world’s poorest communities still fall way behind. There is a lot of discussion about why this is happening, but little done to improve the learning environment for disabled children who all have very different needs.

At Deaf Child Worldwide, we have been working for 18 years with partners large and small, urban and rural, across East Africa and South Asia, to get some of the world’s 34 million deaf children into school and receiving a quality education.

While huge challenges exist, not least a lack of funding, a lack of commitment from governments, and a lack of high quality infrastructure to make it possible, we’re working on many projects that make a meaningful impact on deaf children’s education.

Delivering a model school for deaf children in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, we’ve worked with local partners to develop a program that means deaf children get the education they need while they still go to a mainstream school with hearing children in their community.

Delivered across 35 primary schools and 17 secondary schools in every district of Bangladesh, groups of deaf children are now coming together to be educated, often for the very first time.

Teachers are trained and given the skills they need to communicate with these children. We invest in training teachers to learn basic Bangla Sign Language, to be deaf aware, and to adapt teaching methods and materials in the classroom so that lessons can be more easily understood by deaf pupils.

Having small groups of deaf children in one school also means their disability is no longer invisible. Deaf children meet other children going through the same experiences as them and friendships and support networks form. But on top of these benefits, we’ve also seen drop-out rates for deaf children plummet in these schools to almost zero.

A teacher in an early intervention center assists a deaf child
A teacher in an early intervention center assists a deaf child
Deaf Child Worldwide

Early education is the key

Preparing deaf children for school needs to start early. Across different developing countries, we’ve worked with partners to set up early intervention programs to work with deaf children and their primary care givers as early as possible, building the foundations in communication and language.

We see too many deaf children starting primary school without the ability to communicate and with no grasp of a language. Unsurprisingly, huge numbers drop out and continue to live a life of isolation and abuse.

In Bangladesh we are working with the Centre for Disability in Development and supporting their early intervention centers. This helps very young deaf children and their families start the process of learning to communicate together, building confidence and then developing social skills and the basics in literacy and numeracy.

Each center also has community support workers and deaf role models that have been trained by Deaf Child Worldwide.

We believe that the results speak for themselves – according to our own analysis, deaf children are twice as likely to enroll in primary school in the areas where these centers operate.

Primary care givers and parents play a crucial role too. Together they can learn more about supporting their children at home and learn basic sign language. They are not only supported to confidently communicate with their children but also empowered to change perceptions of deafness within their family and communities.

On top of all of this, parents can meet other parents and share their frustrations and concerns as well as learn about services and benefits available, while deaf children make new friends, are inspired by deaf adults, and build their confidence.

Bringing lived experience into the classroom in Kenya

In Kenya, we have worked with local NGOs to support deaf children in mainstream schools by bringing deaf teachers into the classroom. They provide invaluable support not only to deaf children, but also to the mainstream teacher. This, after all, is what inclusive education is all about – adapting mainstream schools so that all children can learn.

While the benefits for deaf students in lessons was immediate, they also had a role model to look up to. The teacher benefitted from having extra support and help to support learning for all their students too.

The wider school community (including many staff) changed their perceptions about deafness and the deaf students became more included and accepted. Many mainstream teachers were able to practice more advanced Kenyan Sign Language as the project progressed.

As one of our deaf teachers said: “The teaching became much more enjoyable when everyone could participate and interact together.”

From local success to a global change

Each of these examples showcases what can work with time, effort and the right resources in place.

Deafness is not a learning disability and with the right support to develop language and communication skills early in life, deaf children can achieve as well as their hearing peers.

Local and international NGOs and local communities can achieve impressive results for the children they work with, but it’s essential that governments, the public sector, and civil society work together too.

Successful small-scale initiatives must inform the long-term investment plans of governments and policy makers if we are to make the systemic and structural change that is essential.

This is the only way we will change the fact that 40% of disabled children in developing countries still don’t go to primary school and 55% never make it into a secondary school classroom.

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Inclusive education
South Asia: Bangladesh | Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya

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