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New deal for the deaf - USAID to the rescue with literacy-enhancement programme

Published:Friday | September 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
André Witter (right) from the Jamaica Association for the Deaf gives a demonstration in sign language during the official launch of the USAID/JAD Partnership for Literacy Enhancement for the Deaf Project. Looking on are from (second right) Floyd Green, minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information; Rebecca Robinson, acting mission director, United States Agency for International Development; and Christopher Williams, chairman and executive director of the JAD board.

More than 90 per cent of deaf students in Jamaica are performing below their expected academic level, but that is expected to change with the recent launch of a literacy-enhancement project for the deaf.

State minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Floyd Green, in alluding to his ministry's slogan, "every child can learn, every child must learn", admitted that while members of the deaf community have been short-changed, the ministry is always looking at ways to strengthen the resources provided to those with special needs.

"The truth is, the community has been underserved, and the only way we can treat with that is by first acknowledging it and then taking steps to address it," said Green.

"We have progressed well in some areas, but there are other areas in which we have not done so well. we have to quickly catch up in those areas, and I think that this gives us a significant push-start in relation to catching up on lost ground in relation to treating our hearing-impaired community," added Green.

Chairman of the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), Christopher Williams, lamented the fact that the deaf community has not been given an equal opportunity to learn and develop.

"The able-bodied community has received the lion's share of the development capital in the country and we are simply asking for us to be given our fair share, and with it, we are confident that we will be able to deliver," said Williams.

"The fight that we are on is a fight to fish. As you know, you give a man a fish, he lives for a day; you teach a man to fish, he lives for a lifetime, and what we want is to learn to fish.

"We the deaf community are not here begging any handouts, we want to be given the tools so that we can perform and we can participate in the growth and development of our county," added Williams, as he expressed pleasure over the financial and technical support that the USAID has pledged to ensure that the Partnership for Literacy Enhancement for the Deaf Project is a success.

The three-year project will target approximately 100 educators of the deaf and 400 students from nine participating schools, along with their families.

The objectives of the project include increasing the number of deaf students functioning at age-appropriate levels for literacy by at least 10 per cent, as well as establish the Jamaican Sign Language as a curriculum subject in schools for the deaf by 2020.

Project manager, Tisha Ewen-Smith, noted that the support from parents of deaf children is oftentimes either minimal or totally absent. As such, the project also aims to empower parents of the deaf to effectively communicate with them.

Added to this, she has found that "teachers with even the best of intentions struggle to be able to use Jamaican Sign Language as a tool of instruction to make the teaching and learning process an effective one".

This has resulted in poor secondary integration into society with a high prediction for a low standard of living for the deaf into their adult lives.

Acting mission director for USAID, Rebecca Robinson, expects that the project will help deaf children to be well-rounded and will build a strong foundation for literacy and academic success.

"There is evidence to suggest that the deaf has been an underserved population with limited educational opportunities which do not adequately cater to the unique needs of this community," said Robinson, as she noted that educational programmes are the key to economic development.