Lost in Lockdown: The impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on ‘deaf education’ in Low and Middle-Income countries
June 21, 2022
By Joanna Clark, Director of Deaf Child Worldwide
Of the few deaf children who make it to school, many drop out early. Very few make it to secondary school, let alone further education. The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected deaf pupils who were already in precarious situations. What needs to change now to give them the education they deserve?
DCW’s February 2022 issue of ‘Deaf Students Speak Out’ reported on COVID-19’s effect on the education of deaf children in West Bengal. It painted a bleak picture of a lack of technology, inaccessible learning materials and inadequate support from teachers during the crushing isolation of lockdown.
Concerned that these experiences were being mirrored elsewhere, we organised an online event entitled ‘Two years on: The impact of the pandemic on deaf children in the developing world’ so that we could share our findings in the hope of finding common solutions. It attracted 86 registrants from 13 countries, from education professionals and programme managers to policy specialists and academics. We examined the effect of COVID-19 lockdowns and school closures on deaf children with the aim of devising strategies for improving their education. We heard from colleagues from NGOs based in India, Uganda and Zimbabwe and held many lively discussions. We discovered that three main issues stood out as warranting further discussion:
- Stagnation of language learning
- Inaccessibility of online learning materials
- The impact of lockdown on mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Governments came under scrutiny for a lack of appropriate support for deaf learners. In India, for example, most government lessons were transmitted during the pandemic via TV, to which very few families had access.
We found that many deaf students were reluctant to return to education once schools reopened. The extended closures meant many had lost confidence and it was particularly difficult to return and join an older year group. Also, many teachers lacked the specific skills necessary to enable them to catch up. Some never returned. Lockdown effectively ended their education.
Onwards and Upwards:
We did of course find some positive developments. NGOs were singled out for praise for stepping up and continuing to provide accessible education through their learning centres. They provided specialist staff to develop teaching materials to help with communication. One NGO in Zimbabwe started giving deaf students written learning materials, which were shared with other families, strengthening bonds between them and enabling students to continue their education at home. Were it not for these centres, deaf learners would have had little or no educational support for months.
Another encouraging effect of lockdown was the closer involvement of families in their deaf child’s education. More home visits by NGOs to provide learning support may have been a factor in this. Many NGOs also reported closer relationships with families as a result.
Pathways to Innovation:
In spite of the challenges, there were reasons to be positive. We developed new ways of working which we aim to build on. It’s vital we continue developing new approaches and strategies to address the challenges that the pandemic so starkly exposed by the pandemic. Failing to do so means an entire generation of deaf potential risks being lost to countries who can ill afford to lose this talent. We cannot let that happen.
Deaf Child Worldwide (DCW) is the international arm of the National Deaf Children’s Society, the UK’s leading international charity for deaf children. For 20 years, DCW has worked with partners in low- and middle-income countries to enable deaf children and young people to be fully included in their communities.