Deaf education is a fundamental right for every deaf child. In Pakistan, there are over one million deaf children but less than 5% of those children have access to education.
Availability of and access to sign language – the native language of the Deaf community – is a critical component of every deaf person’s cognitive, educational, social, and linguistic growth. As emphasized by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, sign language is inseparable from deaf people’s human rights. Without sign language, deaf people are not equal.
Sign language is not universal, but indigenous to every country. Until now, there has been very little documentation of Pakistan Sign Language (PSL). Historically, the few books that have been published over the last 30 years contained a maximum of 800 signs, and are no longer in circulation nor available. Deaf Reach – a program of FESF – has developed the award-winning Pakistan Sign Language Resources. These digital and visual learning resources, hosted online
, are available free of cost across Pakistan to deaf children and youth, their parents, as well as teachers of the deaf.
Deaf Reach is the only school system for the Deaf in Pakistan with a branch network. Deaf Reach Schools, Colleges and Training Centers provide an outstanding education for thousands of deaf youth, the majority coming from low-income households. In addition to daily academics, Deaf Reach conducts a Parent Training Program, a Teacher Development Program, Vocational Training, and a Job Placement Program to facilitate employment, all in support of the Deaf community in Pakistan. Deaf Reach has PSL (Pakistan Sign Language) Resources and PLUs (Personal Learning Units) have been widely distributed to government and private schools in each region of the country, and the content is available free-of-cost online.
The introduction of PSL Resources and PLUs has significantly increased the number of deaf children who now have educational content available in their native language of PSL. Tens of thousands of Deaf children now have instant access to content designed specifically for them. One of those children is Bakhtawar, a 9-year-old girl living in the village of Tando Qaiser in Sindh Province, Pakistan. Her father, Jumman, is a daily wage laborer who works on construction sites. Jumman, his wife, and his three daughters - including Bakhtawar - are all deaf.
At Deaf Reach School, Bakhtawar’s favorite subject is Computer Class, and she likes to use it to increase her Pakistan Sign Language (PSL) vocabulary. Bakhtawar has also had the chance to spend time with the PSL Learning Unit (A tech-based resource containing a wealth of stories, tutorials, and literacy tools tailor-made for Deaf education). Her computer teacher, Mr. Aashiq, takes the entire class through 10 new PSL words every day so that Bakhtawar and her fellow students are able to memorize and expand their vocabulary. Teachers are supported by tutorials, that present best practices in deaf education that are interactive and effective, and are based on methodologies developed at Deaf Reach. These programs help to solve the massive problem of under-trained educators in government and private institutions. Educators can learn how to better deliver their lessons with the aid of 200+ teaching tutorials.
At Deaf Reach schools, each student also has a time slot to use the PLU under supervision. Bakhtawar tells us: “I love navigating through the device. It is SO easy to use, and everything is available in my language! I watched the tutorial on how to make pancakes in one of the cooking tutorials, and it was very easy to follow!”
Bakhtawar also talks about her favorite PSL Sign Stories: “The Quaid e Azam character, (based on Pakistan’s founder) teaches us about not littering and the importance of cleanliness.”
Students are encouraged not only to memorize new vocabulary words but to also teach it to their parents and siblings at home. Now, not only is Bakhtawar gaining fluency in PSL, English, and Urdu, she is also teaching her family how to write in both English and Urdu. Jumman says that ever since Bakhtawar has joined the school, his daughter has become his teacher in improving his sign language, and he can now better communicate with his wife and other children thanks to her. Bakhtawar’s mother hopes that Bakhtawar can teach other children like herself.
Her uncle adds that after seeing her write and read in English, people in their community no longer think that Jumman and his family are mentally challenged, a common misconception in Pakistan about deaf people. Instead, people who see Bakhtawar and her sisters read and write are impressed that the Deaf are actually equally capable as everyone else.
Teacher tutorials present best practices in deaf education that are interactive and effective and are based on methodologies developed at Deaf Reach. These programs help to solve the massive problem of under-trained educators in government and private institutions. Educators can learn how to better deliver their lessons with the aid of 200+ teaching tutorials!
The two greatest challenges in Pakistan with regards to Deaf Education are a lack of trained teachers, and a lack of learning resources in the local sign language, PSL. The development and widespread dissemination of PSL Resources via the online portal and offline Learning Units has been an effective low-cost innovation that has provided an easy to use solution to meet the great need for deaf education across the country. These same challenges are preeminent in many developing countries, and the solution highlighted in this paper is a model that is replicable and scalable in countries where Deaf Education programs are in need of growth.