Deaf in a hearing world

Despite being deaf, four young girls have settled in well at a Johannesburg former Model C school. Roshila Pillay reports

Bibi Tilly, Nyeleti Nkwinika, Mpho Dlukulu and Lerato Ka Mncube enrolled at Parktown High School for Girls so they could obtain results that would ensure university entrance. The four have been welcomed at the school and they’re committed to being treated like any other pupil.

Tilly says being part of the school has boosted her confidence: “In the future, when I meet hearing people, I will tell them I’m deaf and there are deaf people in the world. Hearing people are not aware of us but we are the same as them.”

The four previously attended St Vincent School for the Deaf. “Last year I decided to move here [Parktown Girls High] to get a matric certificate. We all got together, our parents had a meeting and finally we were accepted by a hearing school,” explains Dlukulu. At her previous school Dlukulu would not have had the opportunity to sit for the senior certificate examinations as the school follows a special curriculum and does not offer senior certificate examination subjects.

Dlukulu sacrificed two years to be a part of the school. She would have been in grade 10 this year had she remained at St Vincent school, while the other girls would have been in grade 9.

Two interpreters who previously taught at St Vincent school were employed by the girls’ parents at Parktown High for their daughters. The girls’ parents are responsible for the interpreters’ salaries as the education department does not make provision for these. “The rates we are charging are less than half the normal rates [for interpreters]. The love of the deaf and the knowledge that it is a good opportunity for the girls to improve their situation was the main motivation for me,” says Jess Gallow, one of the interpreters.

Policy to include disabled children in mainstream schools is awaiting cabinet approval. “We are expecting it to be released soon as a white paper,” says Msongelwa Gumede, deputy chief education specialist for special education in the Department of Education. The policy is based on the Salamanca Resolution, taken at a 1994 Unesco conference, which stipulates that there should be equal educational opportunities for all. It has been interpreted as a recommendation for mainstreaming disabled learners.

In line with this, the South African government aims to mainstream as many as 400 000 disabled children who are currently completely excluded from formal education as well as those currently accommodated in special schools.

According to Gumede, 51% of children already in mainstream schools have special needs but are not necessarily disabled. Inclusive education will deal with these and other learner education needs.

Gumede sees the inclusion of the girls at Parktown High as a positive development. “What they are doing is good - it is in line with the direction the government is taking.”

At Parktown High the staff are positive about their new additions. “The government has said mainstreaming will have to take place. We got this opportunity and thought it would be a nice way to start if off,” explains Christine de la Harpe of Parktown High. According to her, the girls’ disability is only a disadvantage to them when it comes to general knowledge. “They find it frustrating that they cannot listen to the television news and take in other sources of news. It is also hard for them not to be able to participate fully in drama. There is still a lot for us to do at the school to incorporate them properly.” While there are many problems to overcome, the girls are positive about their new school. It irks them when pupils regard their deafness with sympathy. One pupil, when hearing they were deaf, said “Shame!” But they’re not deterred and just want to make a difference.

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, June 2001.

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