The world of deaf community, sign language interpreters, audiologists, psychologists, teachers of the deaf, electronic note takers, researchers and scholars in fields of deaf education converged in Athens, Greece from 6th to 9th July 2015. Malawi was represented by the author of this article and one sign language interpreter. The theme of the conference was “Educating Diverse Learners: Many Ways, One Goal”.
The congress attracted 700 worldwide experts and highly distinguished researchers from almost 60 nations and different scientific area related to education of the deaf. They gave each other an opportunity to share latest knowledge and experience on the said theme and on related issues, as well as establishing a network for future academic, scientific and professional cooperation.
During the congress, it was observed that most of the deaf people from developed worlds are critical thinkers. They were able to critique professional researchers’ and experts’ presentations. This shows that education for the deaf in those world, is well developed and has sound deaf education policies that Malawi and other developing countries lack.
Most of hearing people who interact with deaf people will note that most deaf people rarely converse comprehensibly. This situation is worldwide. You will note that average deaf student graduates from secondary school with language and academic achievement levels below that of a Form One hearing student. This also applies to reading scores for both sets of people.
In Malawi, we have less than ten university graduates and are hardly noticed. This is a small percentage of total university graduates as compared to other countries. Most of these deaf graduates rose above many hindrances.
Legal frameworks and policies that drive education in Malawi are shallow on special and inclusive education biasing towards education for normal learners.
Education Act (2012) was amended in current era of inclusive education environment. And all education authorities in Malawi were aware of the existence of Salamanca (1994) and Jomtien (1990) Papers. While the Act is the crucial law governing education, it does not make out inclusive education specifically as a strategy for quality of education. Captivatingly, in some countries, governments have developed inclusive education policies apart from consolidating inclusive education issues within their education acts.
Furthermore, some local education experts have pointed out that the 2008/2017 National Education Sector Plan does not directly refer to inclusive education in its priorities and strategies, guiding principles, enrolment targets. The document mentions ‘poor access for children with special needs’ without definition of strategy and indicators. Clearly there is confusion in the use of ‘special needs’ and ‘inclusive education’ reflecting lack of conceptual understanding and likelihood of operational challenges.
Deaf education teaching methodologies does not vary across the globe. There is a combination of teaching methods. Many schools seem to be using a mixture of teaching methods, which are predominantly lip reading, sign language and finger spelling.
In Malawi, children are encouraged to use oral methods of communication. While in other countries like Kenya, children are particularly encouraged in sign language and finger spelling.
In most cases, teachers of the deaf are passionate. They have enthusiasm and a passion to see beyond the disability of the deaf children. Indeed, passionate and dedicated teachers seem to be one of the essential ingredients towards making a successful education of the deaf.
However, the setback is that schools of the deaf and education for the deaf in general lack adequate financial and material support from the state. As a result, some schools are finding ways of raising their own funds. Ideas that are being used to raise funds included running maize mills.
Deafness is often seen as a deficit or abnormality in the society. This perspective focuses on the fact that deaf people do not hear and sees deafness as a medical issue that should be ‘cured’ by doctors. Such negative perspective on deafness delays deaf children’s language and academic development.