Alison Leach: Mainstream education isn’t always inclusive for Deaf parents

Posted on April 26, 2013

photo(1)The general consensus is that mainstream education is meant to be inclusive – and that special education is often looked at as a last resort.

While mainstream education may work for some deaf children, I would like to highlight a recent experience I had as a Deaf parent with a hearing daughter in a hearing school.

My hearing daughter’s school invited parents to participate in a school lesson so that they could enrich their child’s learning journey. I wanted to be there for my child so that I could support her, and I was provided with a BSL interpreter so that I could follow the lesson.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the lesson was on phonics!

Phonics is a method of teaching people to read by associating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system. For example, parents were asked to utter the sounds ‘t’ or ‘ck’ as in (‘duck’) so that the children could match the sound to the letter and to use the letter sounds for reading and spelling.

Being Deaf with no clear speech, I was at a disadvantage. I struggled with the lesson but my daughter was used to my voice and was able to understand what I was pronouncing and completed the lesson fine. Luckily my daughter is too young to be embarrassed by her mother speaking in gobbledegook.

I am conscious that people say that phonics is the way forward in educating children in reading and writing but I wonder if phonics is a viable teaching method for everyone. As dictated by our home environment, we do not do phonics at home and yet our daughter is top of her class in reading and writing and continues to amaze us with her communication skills.

Another point I would like to state, that while I am an (reasonably intelligent) adult, it was an effort to follow the lesson even with a very competent interpreter; I can only imagine the horrors a profoundly deaf child may have to face when (trying to) learning about phonics in mainstream education.

I am a firm believer that special schools should be sustained so that deaf children do not fall behind their peers because a particular teaching method does not work for them. Mainstream education is not a size that fits all; the Department of Education – take note!

Alison is thirtysomething. She was born and bred near the south coast and currently resides in the West Midlands.

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