Deaf students’ exam success points the way forward for academic support

I’d like to talk to you about a stunning success made by some of our partner organisations in India.

A significant number of the deaf teenagers they have been supporting have now passed their board exams, which determines if and where the student will continue to study after secondary school.

In West Bengal, the Child In Need Institute (CINI) has mentored 19 deaf students to pass their board exams, with one student receiving an A. The Graham Bell Centre for the Deaf supported 17 of its deaf students to pass the exams, and in Karnataka, our partner SAMUHA supported 10 deaf students to do the same.

This is a major breakthrough. As Shampa Nath, Head of South Asia for Deaf Child Worldwide, commented: ”There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea of a deaf child in one of these communities ever completing school would have been unimaginable.”

The role of learning centres

All three of our partners have been working with deaf young people for many years, continually providing accessible education to them via their innovative learning centres. In partnership with mainstream schools, the centres work with school-aged deaf pupils to complement their mainstream work. This enables deaf students to keep up academically with their hearing counterparts. The centres provide accessible lessons, create visual learning materials and ensure interpreters are present at exams.

Integral to the success of the learning centres is the recruitment of Community Resource Group Members who work alongside specialist partner staff. These are local people with an interest or experience in education who are trained by partner staff to teach deaf children.

Disha and the learning centres

Disha is one of the young people who passed her board exams. Her story is remarkable, not just because of her academic success as a deaf young person in mainstream education, but also because of the obstacles she faced in getting an education in the first place.

Disha and her parents come from extreme poverty. Schooling for Disha may not have been the most obvious or prudent choice for the family to make, yet her parents encouraged her to take an academic path and supported her along the way. This is especially noteworthy given the widespread expectation in some parts of Indian society that only boys should pursue academic paths, and that girls should remain at home to help with the housework and prepare for marriage. It is testament to the effectiveness of the learning centre model and the determination of centre staff that a significant number of the deaf students taking and passing the board exams were girls.

Disha’s mainstream school lacked both the resources and the expertise to support her adequately. This is why learning centres like the one she attended are so vital. CINI was able to support Disha both academically and more broadly, providing support with sign language and life skills training.

Thanks in no small measure to the support she received from CINI, Disha passed her board exam with flying colours, receiving an A. She told us: “When I got my results I was so happy. My parents, family members, everyone was happy for me.”Now Disha wants to go on to college or university and dreams of becoming a lawyer.

Continuity is key

Until very recently, so many deaf students of both genders passing their board exams would have been unthinkable. This is yet more evidence of the effectiveness of learning centres in securing good outcomes for deaf young people in mainstream education.

Integral to this effectiveness is continuity, as evidenced by this cohort of students. They were the first group to receive specialist support in their teenage years, but many of them also benefitted from learning centre support  from an early age. This enabled them to develop vital language and communication skills as young children. This support continued through pre-primary and primary school, which helped them gain the skills and confidence they needed to attend and prosper at secondary school and beyond. Disha herself was provided with specialist support at primary school before she moved to CINI at the age of 12.

Long-term investment will see further successes

These results add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating the key role that properly resourced learning centres play in helping deaf students achieve good academic outcomes in mainstream education. Long-term investment in learning centres with specially trained educators who intervene as early as possible will lead to further successes like Disha and her contemporaries, and will change many lives.

Without this support, it is likely that many promising deaf students would simply have dropped out of school. Instead, we now have a situation in which Disha can become an A student. Her success also shows that deaf girls can do anything they set their minds to, when they and their families are given the right support.

Shampa Nath