I already wrote about education for children with hearing loss in Helsinki (Finland), when I was there in May. You can see my notes here.
It’s worth reminding you that there is no school for deaf children in Helsinki. It was disbanded several years ago, and now there are only special classes for children with hearing loss at an ordinary school. So, the children are partially integrated. Despite these children being in separate classes and having special program, all of the students are together at breaks, festivities and tours.
The school doesn’t differ much from other European schools in appearance: it’s clean, light and beautiful here. There’s children’s handicraft everywhere, and a lot of space.
The classes for children with hearing loss are divided into those for deaf and those for hard of hearing children. All the grades are united into three educational stages: primary, secondary and high school. The difference from an ordinary school is that all the children in the grades of one stage study in one class. In other words, there are 11 grades at the school: grades 1-4 are the primary stage,
5-8 are the secondary, and 9-11 are the high stage. In our schools, children are usually divided into classes and study separately. And here, all the children of one stage study together. For instance, if it’s a class of the primary stage (primary school), it includes children from grades 1-4. The principal had to resort to these measures, as there are very few children with hearing loss, and the school doesn’t have the means to provide a class for 1-2 children. Children study some subjects together (the environment, biology), and some of them separately (mathematics, the Finnish language). From the 6th grade, they all also start studying the second language, English. Moreover, children with hearing loss in every class have lessons in sign language. Up to the 4th grade, every child has individual lessons in oral speech twice a week.
I was introduced to the class for the first time! The class teacher, Mia, asked me to speak about myself, and she interpreted my story into the sign language. The children were excited about my story, and were also eager to share stories about themselves, their families and pets.=) It’s an incredible feeling! You feel that
you’re not just a spectator… You are taking part in it! We discussed several signs a little. Almost all the children had come from various countries, and showed me happily what sign designates their country here, in Finland. One boy’s parents are both deaf and have come from Russia. One girl’s mother is from Russia. The world is small.
What amazed me in the class itself was the atmosphere. It was created thanks to the absolutely wonderful teacher! Mia was all smiles, she rolled around the classroom on a chair and explained completely different programs to every child with ease (it was a math lesson). Almost every teacher in a special class has his or her assistant. Sign language interpreters also work at the school.
I observed a math lesson in a primary stage class of deaf children. The whole lesson was taught in the sign language. I was told that they use the bilingual method in the class for hard of hearing children (they use both the oral and sign languages in teaching), but the classes for deaf
children have all the teaching based on the sign language.
The math lesson went on smoothly, everyone had his or her homework checked, and then every child worked on the exercises independently.
Mia stayed with me after the lesson to tell me more about everything. At the end of school, all the children take unified exams. The Finnish language and mathematics are obligatory, the other subjects are elective. Of course, according to the law, everyone has the right to get a higher education. But in practice, everything is always more complicated than that. There are no sign language interpreters in universities. The state provides deaf people with a certain number of hours, within which they can use sign interpreters’ services for free: to go to a clinic, a bank, shopping, studying… However, those hours aren’t enough for all the studies, and students learn to cope with it themselves.
Thanks to modern technology, many children adapt to the environment successfully. They have the resources to exchange text messages, scan the lectures,
and communicate via Skype. And considering that children of this school communicate with hearing people rather often, problems arise rarely. All the public events are interpreted into the sign language.
It’s great there. Everything is… Easy and natural. This feeling never leaves me… The feeling that everything is fine. That everything is as it should be. Yes, these are children. Yes, they are deaf. Thus, we’ll teach them the way that suits them most. And the requirements… They are the same for everyone.
Sign language dictionary: