3 Kerala polytechnic colleges lead the way with sign language lessons for teachers

At a session initiated by the Directorate of Technical Education to teach sign language to teachers, many myths about the deaf community were dispelled.
3 Kerala polytechnic colleges lead the way with sign language lessons for teachers
3 Kerala polytechnic colleges lead the way with sign language lessons for teachers
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At three polytechnic colleges of Kerala, there are separate batches of students who are deaf. They don’t need special teachers, thanks to the colleges’ efforts at inclusion. An interpreter translates what the teachers teach to sign language for the students, and also conveys the students’ doubts back to the teacher.

But a lot could be lost in translation, realised Dr KP Indira Devi, Director of Directorate of Technical Education (DTE), under which the three colleges come. She decided that it was important for the teachers to learn the sign language too. So, towards the end of November, two resource persons -- who are also deaf -- and two interpreters were called from the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH), not only to take sessions on sign language for the teachers, but also help them understand the ‘deaf culture’, as the resource persons put it.

DTE has three polytechnic colleges in its aegis – Women's Polytechnic College in Thiruvananthapuram, and a Government Polytechnic College in Kalamassery and Kozhikode each. There are 15 students each in the batches of two colleges, and 10 in the third college’s batch. 

“My key message to you as teachers is to accept these students as they are, understand the significance of sign language as their mother tongue, and support them in their development into individuals capable of facing the world's challenges,” was Dr Indira’s message to the polytechnic teachers participating in the sessions.

Many myths about deaf people were dispelled in this two-week session, says Deepa Gopinath, training officer at DTE who coordinated the session. “For one, they don’t like to be addressed as hearing-impaired. They see it like this: there are people who can hear – ‘the hearing people’ – and there are deaf people,” she says.

In the system followed at DTE, interpreters needn’t have technical knowledge. In a polytechnic college, where technical education is imparted, there is no way to know if what the teacher spoke in class was correctly conveyed in sign language. It was really important that the teachers pick up the sign language and they did so quickly during the two-week session, and the interpreters had less and less work to do.

“It is NISH that advised us that the teachers must learn sign language and also said that it is important to learn the deaf culture and psychology. That’s why the resource persons – Babloo Kumar and Sandeep Krishnan -- were also involved,” Deepa says.

Dispelling myths

Deepa was initially shocked to realise how many myths and beliefs that people -- including her -- held about the deaf.

“For instance, it was widely believed to be a good idea to give deaf children cochlear implant and speech therapy. This can help them talk, but not necessarily with a lot of clarity. But then the resource persons said that this should not be done to children, and they should have the choice to do it when they are older. It is their right to decide if they want to continue in the deaf community or join the ‘hearing’ community. This had not gone down well with all of the participant teachers. It only shows our reluctance to accept that deafness need not be an impairment,” Deepa says.

Another myth was that sign language used by deaf people across the world is not a universal one. “There are different types of sign language even in one place, the same way we have different dialects in Malayalam. And say, if you want to go to America, you have to learn the international sign language,” Deepa says. She also mentions a proposal initiated by the Kerala government to consider sign language as one of the 22 official languages recognised in the country.

“A prevalent myth is that it was the ‘hearing’ community that developed the sign language to help the deaf. It has always been the deaf in different parts of the world who developed the different sign languages,” she adds.

Deepa says that it would be a very good move if Kerala could have sign language taught to all children from class 1 onwards. “Kerala could be a model in this. It should be taken up by a teacher who is deaf, with the help of an interpreter. That way, there will also be more jobs for the deaf community.”

A message that the resource person Babloo sent after the session says, “All deaf educators must learn sign language and deploy a deaf teacher in schools and colleges where the deaf teacher can be bridge between hearing teachers and deaf students. Most of the students are skilled in sign language but lacking in reading and writing; in the same way hearing teachers can read and write but lack in sign language. There can be mutual sharing and learning between the two groups.”

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