Sign Language Course for the Hearing Impaired Students

Recent policy decisions have tried to undo the roadblocks faced by hearing impaired students in pursuing higher education

Recent policy decisions have tried to undo the roadblocks faced by hearing impaired students in pursuing higher education

There have been innumerable roadblocks for the deaf people in attaining higher education. The training of children with hearing impairment is a long, slow and steady process where they need external help either from their parents or from their teachers for quite a long time.  The training should start at an early age i.e. around four or five years of age. As the child grows and gets somewhat confident he is then able to develop rational, analytical and cognitive skills essential for his adjustment into the environment.

At the primary school level, the parents train them in lip-reading, learning language fundamentals and basic arithmetic and cognitive skills etc.  After reaching a certain age and mental maturity these children need special individuated attention towards higher stages of education. Parents have to choose between a program offering sign language and a program that focuses on oral education.

Need for a Sign Language

A sign language uses visually transmitted sign patterns (manual communication, body language and lip patterns) to convey meaning. Thoughts are expressed easily by using movement of hands combined with hand shapes, facial expressions and movement of lips. In linguistic terms, sign languages are quite as rich and complex as any oral language. It is a misconception that they are not "real languages".  Sign Language allows fluidity in conversation among deaf people.  If families and friends learn sign language or even basic signs and symbols, there would be a whole new world for the deaf people.

But in India the integration of the hearing impaired has not taken place effectively because greater stress is placed on the oral languages. According to an estimate 1.1 million deaf populations is there in our country and out which 98% are illiterate. Teachers too believe that Sign Language should be the first language for the deaf but still greater stress is laid on the speech which leads to failure of all the efforts.  Though NCERT have included sign language in the schools curriculum, but schools do not follow this. Schools regard the curriculum given by the NCERT only as guidelines for them.

Sign language needs to start from day one in training as neuro-linguistic studies have proved that if a child learns any language by the age of three then cognitive understanding to earn more languages come up in a better way. Children of deaf parents are introduced to sign language at an early age. It becomes their primary language. They pick up signs before and at school, and they can then learn English or any other language as a second language.

Issues of Deaf Students and Education

Though there have been major education reforms in India yet in general education of the deaf in India today is still a major issue. Deaf students may pass 10th or 12th STD, but they face problems while stringing sentences together due to inadequate grammar. Only a few are able to speak and that too very less. . There are 550 schools for the deaf in India but many are not adequately equipped. Although certificates are provided to the students but they do not feel capable enough to pursue higher education because of a lack of language skills and learning ability.

Degree in Applied Sign Language

Keep all this in view IGNOU, in collaboration with the University of Lancashire, has launched a B.A. degree programme in Applied Sign Language which is of 4 years duration.  The students will get a degree from the University of Central Lancashire, UK. There is lack of teachers and trainers in our country. This course aims at creating teachers, interpreters and other professionals.

Applied Sign Language is relatively a new area of study at higher education level. It combines the elements of applied linguistics, sign languages and the needs of deaf communities. Each country or regions has its own sign language and is preferred by the deaf communities around the world. The course includes the concept of ‘learning by doing’ in lab work, work placements and the modules containing experiments. Those who don’t have prior formal secondary education can first take a Foundation Entry Course of one year duration and then continue with the B.A program. Scholarships are being provided for the one year Foundation Entry Course to both Indian and foreign students by The Deaf Empowerment Foundation. These cover one year of tuition fees at Rs.10, 000 for the Indian students and ₤1,500 for the non-Indian students.

The degree can help in getting the deaf students a social status, a career and dignity as human beings enabling them to live as an individual entity in the society.

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