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Robert commented on Deaf Awareness Communication Training (ACT) Project

Dear Thomas,

This looks like an ambitious and exciting proposal. I would like to make a couple of suggestions for it.

First some background information might help. I've been visiting Northern Malawi for over 20 years for a number of reasons. My wife Lizzy and I have been going go Embangweni since 2010 to visit the Primary School for the Deaf, and in the last few years have seen your synod, with the local board, and head teachers begin the only Secondary School for the Deaf in your country. I was sorry you and I missed seeing one another in December when I came by your office in Mzuzu. Our approach is that local people make local decisions. Parents, learners, teachers, administrators and the government all work together to provide the major leadership and initiatives. It is your school. We have the privilege to come as visitors and hope we make a contribution with our presence. We always learn a great deal.

My first suggestion is that since your ambitious proposal is so expansive, I wonder if it would be more effective if it were focused on one aspect of special needs. Your title says it is for the deaf, yet in other places you seem to say it is for all students with special needs. Working with developing and measuring the teachers' skills, or the parents' effectiveness, or the learners progress are all related but separate as well.

There is a need is a clear understanding your synod's approach to special needs. I don't know about the other special needs in your school system, but I have seen that you have developed some fine schools for the deaf, have trained some extraordinary teachers for the deaf, and have gathered a strong group of parents of deaf learners. Teacher training and parental involvement cannot be emphasized enough. Many of the deaf students have not been successful in hearing schools where the conversations are always in a language that is not their natural language nor primary means of communication. Is the objective now to send the school to mainstream schools or to continue to develop these schools for the deaf?

My wife is a teacher and interpreter for the deaf, and has special additional training in the early intervention to families who have found they have a deaf child. With her in this capacity, we have gone with teachers to visit families who have deaf infants. Language was a problem for us, but the teachers were very effective in these visits, and the parents very receptive. It seems these teachers and others like them could be trained to make such visits on a regular basis, and then supported to do so as part of the work of your school system.

Another idea comes from something Lizzy does in the States. She has a program called "Families to Families." Once a month families with deaf, and sometimes hearing children, gather together where the children play. A story is told in sign language. Parents have discussions on selected topics and exchange ideas and experience. Adult deaf persons set an example by taking part in the discussions, and telling about their own experiences. They have been very supportive. In Embangweni there is a strong adult deaf club and parents who can travel to Embangweni on occasion. I can see such programs working well there, but the right persons would need to be selected and trained to lead such an effort.

Other people certainly will have other suggestions for fine tuning your proposal. I hope these suggestions are received in the spirit they are given, and might be helpful.

Best,

Robert Davenport
Norfolk, Virginia USA