From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Recently, deaf teachers in the country converged on the main hall of the Pastoral Centre of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki, Ebonyi State located at Mile 50, along the old Abakaliki-Enugu road.
They had gathered for their annual national conference. This year’s edition, which lasted for three days focused on Assessment of Deaf Education in Nigeria: Missing Link between Theories and Practices.
The conference was to, among others, serve as framework for assessment of deaf education in Nigeria; curriculum adaptation, inclusive education, individualized education programme as well as the law, order, and media application in deaf education in the country.
It was also to x-ray the “assistive technology, infrastructural decay and poor funding of deaf education; collaboration and capacity building of stakeholders in deaf education in Nigeria” in the last one year.
That day, deaf teachers were in Abakaliki chart a new course on the best way to better their lots. They also lined up guest speakers who would speak to them on each of the days.
On the first day, Dr Jonah Eleweke, a lecturer in the Department of World Languages and Literature, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, USA was the keynote speaker. He presented a paper on the theme of the conference. Eleweke has partial hearing impairment and as such, makes great efforts to speak. His lecture was interpreted by a sign language specialist, Mrs. Didiugwu Uzoamaka.
Eleweke while delivering his lecture lamented that some in the society maltreat deaf persons. He was particularly displeased that many deaf children are victims of the maltreatment.
“Children who are deaf have normal brains. The problem is the information to the brain” Eleweke explained. “If a child is hearing, the moment it is born it begins to listen to the parents and the learning begins. That is not possible with children who are born deaf, but they’re not mentally retarded.
“But with proper services, support and education, they can learn and be alright. We have deaf engineers who are real engineers; we have deaf scientists; we have deaf Nigerians who are Deans of Faculties in the universities abroad. It shows that the deaf can do anything if given the opportunity to learn,” said Eleweke.
The keynote speaker explained that the deaf can rule their world and contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of their society if given the necessary support.
“Educating the deaf requires good support from home, parents, brothers and sisters to be able to communicate. But often, parents don’t even know what to do. You cannot blame them.
“Parents can learn sign language so that they can communicate to the child; then, allow the child go to school. It is very important that the teachers should have the love to teach deaf children; provide the resources that they need,” he explained.
Citing himself as an example, he narrated that while in secondary school, he had wanted to major in sciences but he was discouraged because he was not provided with the right support by his school and the government.
“For example, I wanted to take sciences in High School. I liked Biology, Physics, Chemistry but my high school had no laboratory. So, it made no sense for me to read the books on these science subjects without their laboratories for practical. This was because WAEC, NECO, and others have practicals for them.
“So, if you don’t go to the laboratory you’re going to fail. With good teachers and resources, they will learn and be successful. Deaf person can be president.
“We need the help of the people. Many people are very ignorant about deafness or people with special needs. They will see them and back off. We have to see them as human beings. We have needs just as others.
In an interview with The Education Report, the National Vice-President of Deaf Teachers’Association of Nigeria (DTAN) (South East), Rev. Uche Promise Nwode, lamented that the government attaches little or no importance to education of the deaf in Nigeria.
“The main challenge we have is that the government is not fully involved in the education of the deaf the way it is supposed to be. For example, the national policy on education is the law guiding education in Nigeria. Section 8 of that law stipulates that the education of the deaf children shall be the responsibility of the three tiers of the government but they don’t do it.
“For example in Ebonyi State where I established a school for them, these children are not on scholarship. Some states have primary and secondary schools for the deaf. They also put them on scholarship. In many states in the north, deaf children receive annual subvention from the local and state governments but this is not the case in Ebonyi State. Let government place all the deaf children on scholarship so that they can have access to education.
“In my own school, the major challenge I face there is how to feed the deaf children. We need food for the children. That would help to keep them in the school. We go to various villages looking for these deaf children and once we see them, we bring them to the school. Lack of food is the major challenge we face,” Nwode lamented.
In her address, the Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan, told the visibly unhappy deaf teachers that the government has plans to better their lots. She disclosed that her ministry is making efforts to liaise with state governments to ensure that the education of people with hearing impairment is given due attention.
The minister represented by a staff of the ministry, Mr Peter Audu, told them that already, the ministry has facilitated the engagement of some deaf people in the Federal Civil Service.
“On employment, the Federal Civil Service Commission through the intervention of the Minister of Women Affairs employed a reasonable number of the deaf people and other people with disability as staff in the federal civil service,” said the minister.
She, however, said that the education of the deaf is important to the federal government. She assured them that her ministry would do everything within its powers to ensure that the welfare of the deaf is handled with the utmost importance it requires.
“Education of the deaf is very important because as you educate the deaf, you equally educate a nation. If they are well educated, they will go places. They will be able to surmount some of their challenges. They face a lot of challenges every day. But we as a ministry have also been trying to create soft landing for them” she said.
Earlier in his address, the National President of the group, Mr. Tope Olaniyi, assured his colleagues that his administration would not leave to chance anything concerning their welfare. He hailed the theme of the conference, noting that “to all intent and purpose”, it was “a right step in the right direction.”
The official opening of the event was pegged at 10am but at about 9:40am, almost all the members of the group had gathered. Many of them had arrived a day before to be sure they kept to time.
When our correspondent got to the venue at about 9:50am, he literally went dumb, mopping as he meandered through the participants. At first, many of the participants interacted through gesticulations. Many hands were up and waving.
Being his first time reporting such event, and not knowing how to announce his arrival, he stood for about five minutes waiting for a ‘rescuer.’ It was not long after that it occurred to him that the invitation letter addressed to The Sun by the group had read “SMS only.” Just as he was pulling out his mobile phone to send text message to the number on the invitation letter, there was a gentle tap on his shoulder.
“With a smile on his face, one of them gesticulated at me to find out if I needed help. I gesticulated back at him with confusion boldly written on my face even when I did not know what my gesticulation meant.”
At about 10:05am the event started; and all through, Mrs. Uzoamaka, the sign language interpreter was on standby to interpret every presentation made. For roughly five hours which the event lasted, Didiugwu stood beside the podium doing her job.
After the lecture, she stood in the gap between our correspondent and his respondents during an interview session. She related the questions to the interviewees and verbally interpreted the answers while they spoke using signs.
Later, in a brief informal interaction, Didiugwu, who is a staff at Hope Fountain School for the Deaf in Enugu State, told our correspondent that she studied Sign Language in the University of Jos, Plateau State.
She said that deaf teachers usually got angry when someone who does not have hearing impairment comes in their midst. Didiugwu’s explanation was coming on the heels of a ‘charge’ at our reporter by one of the deaf teachers who found out that he does not belong to their group.
Remarkable at the event, however, was the love and unity with which they carried out their activities. They observably did everything by and for themselves.