Only 1-5% of 120-150 million children and youth with disability worldwide attend school (Salamanca Framework for Action, 1994). Of the 70 million deaf people in the world, only 20% have access to education. In India, the rate of illiteracy among persons with hearing impairment is anywhere between 85 to 95 per cent. Of the meagre percentage that opts for higher studies, many students drop out before they complete their education due to the difficulties they face in mainstream schools. Consequently, higher education for a person with any kind of disability depends on the institutional factors and his/her relationship with peers and faculty members.
The government’s decision to increase the number of seats for children with “special needs” in mainstream schools requires a paradigm shift in teaching pedagogy (Jha, 2004). It demands that teachers plan for, teach, and assess a wider range of individual needs than previously encountered. Indian schools are still in the nascent stage of developing effective inclusive practices (Banerjee, 2010).
Supporting inclusive education
Inclusive education demands that teaching and learning happen in a loving and caring school culture with a differential approach and extended support (Jha, 2004). The provision of support services in a mainstream classroom highly depends on the class teachers. Teachers need to be sensitized towards the educational needs of special students (Bindal & Sharma, 2010). A teacher with a positive attitude and awareness can provide sufficient support for all children to access quality education (Reddy & Sujathamalini, 2006). Many studies point out that the negative attitude of teachers is one of the major hurdles that prevent mainstream education from being a positive learning environment for children with disabilities (Heiman, 2004).
Understand your students with hearing impairment
Children with hearing impairment have relatively low reading skills when compared to children without hearing impairment. For a child with hearing impairment, learning new words is a lot of effort because he/she has to understand the meaning of the word and then learn to read the word. Therefore, their reading is slow.
An alert teacher can spot hearing difficulties that children may have by keenly observing the class. If a child looks confused, asks to repeat something several times, or fails to answer questions, it is necessary to offer support services. Dictation and oral tests are difficult for them to take due to their hearing loss. As their speech is defective, reading aloud and pronunciation of words are also defective. Often, loud reading consists of incorrect pauses and improper intonation. Voice may seem defective since some of the speech sounds are not developed properly. Some children find it difficult to control their breath and maintain their voice. All these problems affect the quality of speech and communication process. Generally, children with mild to moderate hearing loss can cope well enough in mainstream schools but when it comes to language, they have problems in constructing grammatically correct sentences. Observation of records like notebooks, classroom tests, exam papers, written assignment, dictation work will help the teacher identify language problems. Deficiency in carrying out instructions and substituting rhyming words are some of the common errors committed by children with hearing impairment. By providing appropriate support services and an environment that minimizes the barriers in using their hearing aids, teachers can strengthen their learning process.
Children, when engaged in the teaching-learning process, need to look at the speaker/teacher in order to obtain further information related to the topic. Because the movement of the lips, facial expression, and hand gestures as well as various aspects of the physical environment in which the communication takes place are potential and additional sources of useful information. Humans learn to use their vision for communication to some extent, even though most of us enjoy the benefit of normal hearing. Persons with hearing impairment, on the other hand, use visual cues by observing the speaker’s mouth, facial expressions, and hand movements to perceive what is being said. A person with severe hearing loss is likely to be more dependent on visual information to communicate than an individual with less auditory impairment. Mainstream school teachers need to be aware of the fact that speech reading is one of the most essential elements in understanding what is taught in class. A child with hearing impairment needs to be seated in a place from where observing the face of the teacher and other children is easier. Sufficient light in the classroom enhances the speech reading process of these children.
Barriers to socialization
Several researches demonstrate the positive effect of inclusive education on the development of social skills in children with hearing impairment. Early integration in mainstream schools enriches the child’s social experiences with peers. It is also true however that unpleasant interactions and discouraging relationship with classmates will affect these children psychologically and hamper their academic and social development (Bain, Scott, & Steinberg, 2004). The primary barrier to such children’s relationships with their peers is their difficulty in communicating. Without effective language, it becomes difficult for a child to initiate or maintain interaction to learn social skills. In fact, language, interaction, and social skills are intertwined and deficiency in one area leads to deficiency in another (Marlow, 2006). The ability to hear and understand speech depends on the extent of their residual hearing, the type of hearing aid used, and the environment. Many times, children find it difficult to understand the speech of a child with hearing impairment. A study revealed that 90 per cent of hearing impaired adults fail to develop intelligible speech. Besides, unclear speech causes impatience in children with good hearing (Foster, 1998).
In general, the school experience influences decision-making at the college level for all children. Unpleasant experience and failure to develop friendship in the mainstream school affect their decision to study further. Students who have high motivation for learning can cope with the existing academic environment and attain high scholastic achievement. For this reason, it is essential to promote interaction between children who can hear and those with a hearing impairment. It has been observed that the children who were enrolled early in mainstream schools can adjust in their new learning environment more easily. Meaningful social experience of mainstream school early in life develops language and enhances the academic progress of the child (Guralnick, 1999).
What can mainstream school teachers do?
The goals of education for children with hearing impairment are the same as those for regular children. However, something more has to be done to achieve the aims of education while considering children with hearing impairment. Certain basic needs are to be fulfilled if children with hearing impairment are to cope in mainstream schools. As per Westwood (1998, cited in Reddy, Sujathamalini, 2006) some effective teaching strategies involve:
- Creating a friendly and supportive learning environment.
- Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the child.
- Presenting the learning tasks in easy steps.
- Using appropriate teaching materials and strategies.
- Clear modelling and demonstration by the teacher or other adults.
- Providing practice with feedback.
- Closely monitoring the child’s progress.
- Re-teaching wherever necessary.
- Frequently revising previously taught knowledge and skills.
- Assisting through vision-based teaching to enhance better learning.
- Modifying physical environment like placing students away from background noise, open windows and doors, noisy hearing and cooling systems.
- Sitting the child in the first row.
- Turning the desks or chairs so that the child can face all other students and teachers to facilitate better hearing.
- Making use of peer tutoring and buddy system to teach.
- Representing lessons through pictures and graphics for successful learning.
A research study suggests that teachers require greater skills for educating children with special needs (Sutherland & Lubman, 2001). Short in-service courses and workshops, seminars and conferences on issues related to hearing impairment offer great opportunities in acquiring knowledge to modify teaching methods in order to facilitate learning in these children. Principals need to install mechanisms to ensure ongoing teacher development. The greatest challenge facing educational systems around the world is addressing the diversity in learning. At present, the professional development of mainstream school teachers is one of the central issues that impede inclusive education in India.
Consequently, principals and mainstream school teachers need to accept the responsibility and be prepared to be accountable for education of all the students. As professionals, they need to understand how children learn and how to develop their own skills to teach all kinds of children. There is a need to update their skills throughout their career in anticipation of new challenges presented by children with special educational needs. Continuous professional development could be promoted by having clear goals, involvement, and active participation. Inadequacies of teachers’ practices in meeting the needs of diversified learners should be treated as opportunities to learn. This maxim helps them grow continuously in expanding their ability to include all the children. Such development will help teachers in using different classroom strategies almost out of habit and make it a natural part of teaching.
So that all may hear
Speaking and listening are the primary communication modes in most educational settings. Therefore, the classrooms should be such that the speech produced by the teachers, students, and others is audible. Unfortunately, classrooms in mainstream schools have excessive noise. Students with hearing loss are at a disadvantage (ASHA, 2002). This is because, the children who use hearing aids have problem in listening when the noise level is high in the class. Even giggling and laughing creates a disturbance in the hearing process and causes difficulty in understanding the teacher. A classroom with low noise levels provides a good listening environment for students with hearing impairment. Reducing noise in the classrooms is indeed a difficult objective to achieve, but it is not impossible. The noise level can be reduced by using carpets on the floor or by providing rubber caps on chair and table legs. Noise from outside can be prevented by providing draperies or acoustically treated blinds on the windows. Reducing the distance between the teacher and the child improves the amplification of the speech signals.
- Alur, M. (2002). “Special Needs Policy in India”, in S. Hegarty and M. Alue (eds), Education and Children with Special Needs: From Segregation to Inclusion. New Delhi: Sage.
- Bindal, S., & Sharma, S. (2010). Inclusive Education in Indian Context. Journal of Indian Education, XXXV (4), 34-45.
- Jha, M. M. (2004). Inclusive Education and the Common School in India. In C. S. Mahapatra (Ed.), Disability Management in India: Challenges and Commitments. (pp. 160-171). NIMH, Seconderabad: Indian Institute of Public Administration.
- Gopalakrishnan, L. (2009). A study of Correlation between Organizational Structure, Teachers’ Competence, Age of Integration and Scholastic Performance of Integrated Children with Hearing Impairment, Dissertation Submitted to YCMOU, Nashik, in fulfilment of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
- Reddy, L., & Sujathamalini (2006). Children with Disabilities: awareness, attitude and competencies of teachers, New Delhi: DPH publishing house.
The author is Assistant Professor at Hashu Advani College of Special Education, Chembur, Mumbai. She can be reached at email@example.com.