Encouraging education in sign language for deaf Palestinian children

Nabil Chikhi and Amnay Lakhsassi, nine years old, were working on a piece of text with recently learned vocabulary words – classic exercise for students of this age, with the only difference that this teaching is delivered in Palestinian Sign Language.

The two boys are educated in the localized unit for the inclusive education of the deaf, at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) El Bireh Elementary School, next to the Al-Amrani refugee camp.

Fourteen students, all deaf, are supervised by Suheir Al-Badarmeh, a teacher in this school for two years.

“The class is divided into groups, I try to respect the level of the age group of students. I have grades CP to CM2 and three students in a follow-up group, who have not yet reached the CP level,” Al-Badarmeh told Palestine Monitor.

In Palestine, 300,000 people would have liked to speak with sign language, according to the National Federation of the Palestinian Deaf.

In fact, two choices are available to families: Palestinian sign language, little known to parents, or so-called “oralising” method.

Many prefer the second option where children learn to speak. In this case, the young people were wearing a hearing aid or a cochlear implant that could provide auditory recovery.

Full language

Three reasons are given: sign language would not be a real language, it does not allow people to speak to God, would prevent breathing well and thus promote tuberculosis.

Sign language has been practiced, but clandestinely, within the associations of the deaf.

Any student concerned must be able to receive a teaching of Palestinian Sign Language in order to consider a professional future, and why not university too,” Rajai Najar President of Benevolente Society for Deaf in Ramallah told Palestine Monitor.

Even today, some proponents of the oralising method believe that learning to speak is necessary for the integration of the deaf, while the defenders of the Palestinian Sign Language (LSP) regret a logic of “repair” of deafness.

Once the mode of communication is adopted, it remains for the families to select the school in which their child will be educated. There are 11 official schools in the West Bank.

The choice is made between the medical-social institutes offering courses combining bilingualism and “oralism”, dependent on the Ministry of Health, or those of the National Education.

This ministry promotes inclusion in regular classrooms. In this case, the student follows the course by reading on the lips, in theory assisted by a school life assistant or a specialized teacher practicing the syllabic code. A controversial method among parents’ associations of deaf children because it asks the pupil in particular a great concentration.

Families wishing a complete LSP curriculum in national education for their children engage in a real obstacle course.

Mhamad Belkacemi, president of the El-Bireh City Association of parents of deaf children, has listed only ten nursery schools and ten primary schools offering bilingual facilities, four colleges and as many high schools.

“There are only four channels from kindergarten to high school in the West Bank. We had asked to open one in Ramallah for kindergarten children, but unfortunately it could not be done, Belkacemi told Palestine Monitor.

Since this option is not available to all parents, learning the LSP stands as yet another hurdle on the road for these families.

Deaf Palestinian children treated in Jerusalem

Several Palestinian children have benefited from cochlear implants by an Israeli team from Hadassah Hospital.

Since 2004, more than 60 Palestinian children have been treated for deafness problems by Israeli specialists.

“Most children have a problem in the inner ear,” Dr. Mikhal Kaufmann of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital said.

The most common solution is to place an implant in the inner ear and a sensor on the outside of the skull that will transmit sounds to the brain as electronic signals.

“The cochlear implant is an electronic implant that stimulates the nerve endings of the hearing in the cochlea.

The cochlea designates the auditory part of the inner ear and transforms the sounds into electrical signals, then transmitted to the brain, as stated on the website CoolIsrael.

Children with disabilities are like the others: they have many abilities. However, they are often discriminated against and excluded from society and lack support.

A situation that makes them invisible and particularly vulnerable within their own community.

Palestinian children with disabilities are further disadvantaged with added vulnerabilities. For example, those living in rural areas have limited access to essential services, including education.

Thanks to community funding, the school has been able to set up a daily bus school bus system and prevent students from having to deal with this additional problem.

Children from the most remote areas also have the opportunity to sleep at the boarding school.

Source: Palestine Monitor