Ngala Secondary School for the Deaf in Nakuru.

| Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Concerns over how the deaf will read lips with teachers in masks

What you need to know:

  • The deaf rely on sign language and lip-reading.
  • Special needs children are locked out of home-based learning.

Teachers have said government-run online educational programmes following closure of schools due to Covid-19 are inaccessible to children with disabilities, according to a new government report obtained by the Nation

And with schools reopening with a requirement that teachers and learners wear masks, questions are being asked how the deaf, who rely on lip-reading in addition to sign language, will cope in special schools.

Special needs children are locked out of home-based learning by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) because of poverty and unsuitable delivery methods, according to 86.4 per cent of teachers interviewed by Kenya Institute of Special Education (Kise).

The majority of children (76.1 per cent) were unable to participate in remote learning because most parents did not have digital devices and Internet access, while broadcast programmes were not adapted to their special needs.

Digital learning

Only less than a third of parents (23.9 per cent) acknowledged their children participate in digital learning through the Internet, TV and radio programmes. 

According to the survey, only a negligible proportion (about 1 per cent) of teachers were running online learning through Zoom and WhatsApp for children with disabilities with the help of their parents or caregivers.

These programmes were meant for candidates only, according to the report titled the State of Children with Disabilities and Special Needs Education in the era of Covid-19.

A total of 103 pre-primary, primary and secondary school teachers from 44 counties participated in the study whose findings are yet to be made public.

“We have carried out this study to highlight the impact Covid-19 has had on special education so that we have a road-map post Covid. We will release it officially very soon. Ours is a capacity-building role and we have not been sleeping on the job,” says Lydia Chege, the manager, Research, Assessment and Partnerships at Kise. 

Frustrated learners

Patricia Mulongo, 40, a deaf woman and the founder of Deaf Women Empowerment, a community-based organisation in Nairobi, says lack of sign language has frustrated deaf learners.

“Online education programmes are going on and majority of deaf students can’t get what’s being taught, they are missing a lot,” says Ms Mulongo.

“We really cannot access the important information we need at this time because media has chosen to focus more on the speaker than the interpreter,” she explains.

“We depend on reading lips when communicating but now everything is totally covered up in face masks. As much as government is eager to reopen schools, how is this going to benefit the deaf population?” Ms Mulongo wonders.

Seventy-five per cent of teachers indicated that there were no specific programmes for promoting participation in home-based learning for children with disabilities. 

Advance education

The report recommends measures to advance special education post Covid-19, including financial support to families of children with disabilities.

It also advises government to reopen special schools for purposes of social protection and continued medical health and therapy to arrest loss of milestones gained and for learning.

“There is minimal learning going on for them at home. They feel neglected and they preferred being in school,” says Ms Chege.

Parents were also concerned that their children were not able to access therapy and medicine, especially for epilepsy.

The study encourages government to explore devices that can enable children with special needs access online learning, diversifying modes of communication during classes run on TV, and other digital platforms, tailor-making TV and radio programmes for children with disabilities.

It also indicates that children with severe and complex disabilities are likely to have better protection from abuse and neglect through the school set-up and small homes.

It urges government to also empower parents, guardians and caregivers to support home-based learning and home-based therapy for their children with disabilities during the pandemic. 

“We conduct assessments via telephone and we have digital platforms like e-kitabu and KSL studio that can be easily accessed by our students from wherever they are,” Ms Chege told the Nation.

ICT Authority

She adds that their main objective now is to develop educational material around Covid-19 and life skills but explains it is the duty of the ICT Authority to provide the necessary gadgets. 

“We are also partnering with different NGOs like The Action Foundation (TAF), and have come up with a mobile application called ‘Somesha’ that currently keeps our students busy,” she added.

Ms Tina Lubayo, the founder and team leader at Women and Girls Empowered (Wage) Kenya, told the Nation that she believes the deaf and those without disabilities should work together to facilitate access to e-learning. 

“E-learning platforms not only increase but also facilitate access to information for deaf persons who have been more isolated since the pandemic broke out,” she says.

“Deaf people need updates on restrictions, gatherings and Covid-19 prevention just like everyone else, they also need to travel to far off places just to have human interaction with other people who form their support system,” says Ms Lubayo.

“Several interventions have been put in place to ensure that learners access learning remotely from their homes using computers, radios, televisions and mobile phones,” Ms Chege told the Nation.

Success key

The availability of these gadgets and Internet access is key to the success of these programmes.

The survey found 63.1 per cent of teachers have attempted to reach out to Centers for Women Development Studies initiatives. It was further established that teachers who taught in pre-school had the highest follow-up rate at 87 per cent followed by those in secondary schools at 78 per cent.

Those teaching in primary schools had the lowest follow-up rate at 56 per cent. Teachers supported the learners with foodstuff, money, guidance and counselling, awareness creation on Covid-19, and academic work.

Teachers reported challenges including inaccessibility of the learners, poverty, as well as high expectations from parents. 

Nearly half (46 per cent) of the parents said their children have been learning house chores and home-based skills.

Nearly a quarter (21 per cent) of the children mainly stayed indoors; while 7.3 per cent spent their time playing. A tiny fraction (5.5 per cent) of the parents supported curriculum based non-digital learning while 2.8 per cent involved their children in organised technology-based learning.