Narrowing the gap between deaf and hearing children’s educational achievement
By uczxsdd, on 17 May 2011
According to the 2009 statistics from the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID), 840 babies are born each year in the UK with significant deafness, and 20,000 children aged 0 to 15 years are moderately to profoundly deaf. Despite this, educational provision for these children has been identified as being limited.
In light of this the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre at UCL (DCAL) held a debate on the gap between deaf and hearing children’s educational achievements on 10 May. The debate was well attended and dynamically argued.
With five panel members, Derek Rodger (Head of Inclusion, Lister Community School), Brian Gale (National Deaf Children’s Society’s Director of Policy and Campaigns,) Dr Floyd Millen (Chief Executive of Yes Minister) Professor Gary Morgan (Deputy Director of DCAL) and Richard Rieser (World of Inclusion Ltd), and BBC 5 Live’s Rachel Burden chairing proceedings, the debate tackled a range of topics, including the revolutionary development of cochlear implants, the appropriate language to be used by deaf children, the emotional and social needs of deaf children and young people and the lack of educational provision for deaf children in the UK.
In the late eighties cochlear implants were apparently heralded as the new cure for deafness. As a result many doctors told the parents of deaf children that learning British Sign Language (BSL) was unnecessary. These instructions continue today. World Inclusion’s Richard Rieser argued that this can lead to denial about being deaf, meaning that the child misses the chance to embrace the richness gained from an immersion in deaf language and culture.
Derek Rodger, himself deaf, stated that since the advent of cochlear implants there has been a reversion to ‘old styles’, that is, ‘no signing allowed’. He saw little evidence that deaf children’s educational attainment has improved as a result.
Should deaf children learn BSL and only be taught in deaf schools, should they only learn English and speech and be fully immersed in mainstream schools, or should they be taught in bilingual environments where both signing and English are used, perhaps in mainstream schools? All these questions were raised in throughout the debate.
Golda, an audience member from Israel, summed things up well when she simply signed that children should be given the opportunity to sign and use speech. They should also be given all the necessary therapies and assistance needed.
Rodger raised the point about the need to address the social and emotional well-being of young deaf children. Brian Gale from the National Deaf Children’s Society informed us that such a programme has been launched in Northern Ireland, called ‘Healthy Minds’. It helps build the self-esteem and the emotional well being of young deaf people. It also has a family curriculum element, teaching the two parties how to communicate effectively with each other.
Lastly, Professor Gary Morgan referred to the story of a mathematics teacher who found that the deaf children in his class would understand the work, but after returning from holidays it was as if all their knowledge had evaporated. Professor Morgan cited the importance of language in helping improve memory and recall – if young people are not encouraged at home during the holidays to actively use language, whether BSL, speech and/or English, then their ability to recall will be hampered and the gap in educational attainment will never be narrowed. Rieser added that this justifies the need for homework tutors to be available throughout the country and the provision of online support wherever possible.
The debate was summed up by the statement made by one audience member, asking why it is that the views of professionals are given priority over those of deaf people, as they don’t know what it’s actually like to be deaf.