“I was bullied at school for not being able to hear and learn like other students in the classroom. I used to always cry. It was hard and I felt isolated when learning with normal students,” said 72-year-old Shivantha Vivekanandan. He is considered to be the most successful past pupil of the Ceylon School for the Deaf in Ratmalana.
Vivekanandan is the President of the Past Pupils’ Association of the Ceylon School for the Deaf (CSD),Ratmalana. Being deaf from birth, deafness never stopped him from winning a number of awards, major trophies, medals and obtaining certificates in studies and dabbling in sports and art.
Many deaf children grow up isolated and deprived. Reminiscing his childhood, he said he was lucky to have parents who had spent their time, effort and money to support his education and future. Thanks to his parents, he has excelled in sports and won a number of awards locally and internationally.
The majority of hearing impaired children aren’t as lucky as he. Some parents may not have resources to provide for their child’s needs nor be knowledgeable enough to understand their child’s problem and the ways to address this issue. Due to ignorance most parents discover the hearing loss of their children far too late. When this condition is discovered late, treatment is impossible.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 466 million individuals in the world with disabling hearing loss (6.1% of the world’s population). As many as 432 million (93%) of them are adults, 34 million (7%) are children and approximately one-third of persons over 65 years are affected by disabling hearing loss.
Only caring parents are willing to spend their time and effort for the benefit of hearing impaired children
World Health Organization (WHO) says that it’s likely that the number of people with disabling hearing loss would grow over the coming years. Projections show that the number could rise to 630 million by 2030 and may exceed 900 million in 2050. As with Sri Lanka there are more than 374,000 hearing impaired people.
While hundreds of thousands of people across the country live with disabling hearing loss, the country is at risk with the number of such cases rising due to lack of access to the proper hearing care services and treatment using new technology.
Lack of Govt. Intervention
The government, despite the proposals made in the recent budget, does not seem to be intervening in the problem, which can pose a significant threat in the future. Sri Lanka, boasting of the best health services in South Asia, has only a handful of schools for the education of deaf students. Apart from Ceylon School for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana there are other institutes like School of Deaf and Blind Children in Anuradhapura, St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf in Ragama and the Nuffield School for the Deaf and Blind in Jaffna.
The institution teaches the pupils important skills so that they can successfully engage in a profession later on in life
Founded in 1912 the Ceylon School for the Deaf, with its objective to provide education to hearing-impaired children and to integrate them into the society, is governed by the Diocese of Colombo and managed by a Board of Trustees of which the Bishop of Colombo is the Chairperson.
The institution teaches the pupils important skills so that they can successfully engage in a profession later on in life. Around 30 teachers are employed in the school and their salaries are paid by the Ministry of Education. However, every resident pupil of CSD is granted Rs.50 per day by the Government to meet all expenses. All other expenses in the school are borne by the funds coming from local and international donors.
CSD Principal Samathika Jayasuriya in an interview with the Daily Mirror said that the Government needs to pay more attention to the deaf community in Sri Lanka and facilitate them.
“Among the 466 million people with disabling hearing loss in the world, 34 million are children. 60% of childhood hearing loss is due to preventable causes,” she said.
With regard to the individual’s inability to communicate with others, hearing loss when unaddressed has a significant adverse effect on the academic performance of children. Consequently, they often have a high rate of failing grades which underscore the huge need for assistance in education.
At CSD classes are conducted from the primary only up to Ordinary Level with the use of special technical aids like vision enhancers to assist the handicapped to read and write at the school.
Currently, the limited vocabulary and lack of language skills hinder a deaf child’s performance at the O/Level Examination. There is no special syllabus for the hearing-impaired individuals.
“In a country like Sri Lanka, children with hearing loss and deafness rarely receive any schooling. Only caring parents are willing to spend their time and effort for the benefit of hearing impaired children. Meanwhile, adults with hearing loss also have a much higher unemployment rate. As they have lower results at examinations, they don’t get good job opportunities,” she said.
According to her not every child is able to obtain the benefit of hearing aids if his or her disability has made too much of a damage, ruling out medical treatment.
Children Dump Yard
According to her, the majority of parents whose children are profoundly hearing impaired are using the Ceylon School for the Deaf as a ‘children dump yard’.
She said it’s tragic as to how those parents admit their deaf children to the school as resident pupils and never return.
The majority of parents have provided fake addresses and phone numbers to the school management. The school management finds it out only when they try to contact those parents during a need. Due to this reason, the school is concerned about the future of the children after completing the Ordinary Level education.
While conducting classes according to the normal school syllabus, the CSD is training its students to grab self-employment opportunities with the support of the National Vocational Training Institute, Ratmalana.
Standard training facilities for vocations such as mushroom cultivating, carpentry and cookery are provided by CSD.
“Through regular treatment, focused education and empowerment, people with hearing loss can reach their full potential and that is what we are trying to do in our school,” she said.
The efforts of the school have been fruitful. Sameera Sandun is one of students who studied at the CSD and gathered much knowledge and training in the cookery field.
Winning first place for his vegetable carvings at an inter-school culinary competition, Sameera set an example for the world deaf community. He is currently employed at Hilton Colombo and has won the hearts of his peers and clients. After following a six-months training at the Hilton Colombo kitchen, he started his career in 2011.
Although it was difficult for him at first to communicate with the others and understand terms and techniques of the industry, he quietly watched the experienced chefs in action and learned everything.
“Sameera is truly an example that would motivate others to go beyond their physical restrictions and follow their dreams. Sameera’s story will also change the society’s perceptive of hearing impaired people,” CSD Principal Jayasuriya said.
Jayasuriya stated that people with hearing loss could benefit from early identification, use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, sign language and other forms of educational and social support.
She emphasised that a child needs to be exposed to a language early for proper development.
She stressed that raising awareness and improving access to services at the primary level of the child can help reduce the prevalence and adverse impact of hearing loss.
“Since the School for the Deaf is established and supports such deaf children to uplift their lives, these individuals no longer have resentment and anger and no longer have to hide in shame. If they don’t receive the support of parents, relatives and friends because they can’t speak nor hear they then believe that they live in a cage of silence and desolation,” she remarked.
She said that many causes of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures.
Pix by Kithsiri de Mel