Two hearing impaired students are talking through sign language, left, and a student at his studies at the hostel of Dhaka Bodhir High School.Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain
The lone high school for the hearing-impaired people at city's Bijoynagar has been riddled with problems since its inception about 42 years ago.
On entering the premises of Dhaka Bodhir High School, founded in 1966, one will find a run-down school building containing a number of dilapidated classrooms crammed with students.
Due to a lack of education the hearing impaired are lagging behind normal people as well as other types of the disabled.
Hearing-impaired students from all over the country come to this school as this is the only institution from where they can pass the SSC exam.
At present the school has around 250 students including 100 staying at the hostel coming from different parts of the country.
In the last 40 years the only renovation the school saw was construction of three rooms a year ago by the government and a donation by Dutch-Bangla Bank for sports facilities of the students.
The school building is so rickety that plasters have come off the ceiling at many places.
A broken basin with a loose water tap at a corner in front of the building just adds to the ramshackle look of the whole place.
"Sometimes we fear that the roof will cave in," said a teacher.
To accommodate as many numbers of students as possible, ten benches are placed inside small classrooms that can hold maximum four benches.
Many of the teachers do not know sign language before they start teaching at this school. “Often we have to learn many intricate gestures from the students," said one of the teachers.
"We have to compromise because we do not find enough teachers interested in teaching the hearing impaired," said Masuda Akhtar, principal of the school.
The situation will worsen when seven sign-language teachers will go into retirement in the next five years.
"We will be in real trouble then if we fail to find new teachers who know sign language," said the principal.
The international standard of the student-teacher ratio for the hearing impaired is 5:1 but the school has only 14 teachers pushing the ratio to 30:1.
There is no course on sign languages in teachers' training institutes. So we are not getting enough trained teachers, said Aminul Islam, a hearing-impaired teacher of the school.
The school does not have a science laboratory. In the absence of visual models it is very hard to teach the students the theories of science and events of history.
"It took me three days to teach the students that the earth moves round the sun. Had there been a model showing the sun and its planets, it would have taken a few minutes to make them understand. In developed countries slide projectors are used to teach the hearing impaired," said Rehana Begum, a senior teacher of the school, teaching for the last 26 years.
Soundproof classrooms are essential in the teaching process as it helps prevent outside noise that may interfere with the lessons.
"They can hear loud noises and thuds. So when we teach them different words by touching their vocal cords they have a hard time concentrating on the lesson," said a teacher.
"We have to teach in small and run-down classrooms because we do not have the funds to provide our students with soundproof rooms," said the principal.
"The students should sit surrounding the teacher in a half circle so that all of them can see my gestures. But here we do not have that much space," said a senior teacher.
A lack of sign language interpreters blocks their opportunities for higher studies. After passing SSC exam they can attend classes at colleges and universities if there are sign language interpreters.
“Around 20 hearing-impaired people are working as clerks and computer operators at Roads & Highways Department, Public Works Department and BRTC. If they can do jobs then they won't remain as a burden of the society," said Rob Howladar, vice president of the school committee and parent of a hearing-impaired child.
"We see seminars and symposiums are arranged regularly on the visually impaired, physically challenged and autistic children but deafness is almost neglected," he said.
According to sources at the Social Welfare Department, there is no statistics on how many people are hearing impaired in the country.
A study by National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled (NFOWD) and Handicap International in July 2005 says 5.6 percent of the total population is living with some kind of disability. Of them, 18.7 percent are hearing impaired and 3.9 are speech disabled.
The present SSC syllabus is very difficult for the hearing impaired since it is theory-based. "They learn practical and vocational things with more ease. It would be best if they had had a separate syllabus," said Aminul.
MI Chowdhury, a former student of the school, said that for the lack of interpreters at colleges most hearing impaired have to study at home or have to work at the manufacturing sector.
"The hearing impaired can do higher studies even PhD at Galludet University in Washington DC. But here we are yet to recognise sign languages, the only way of communicating with them," said Chowdhury, working as a marketing executive at Progoti Industries.
"There is only one high school in the whole country which cannot enrol all the hearing impaired. The condition of girls is even worse as most families tend to keep them at home and they get married early," he said.
The school has a one-acre land at Lalbagh donated by the government but is unable to take hold of the plot because they cannot construct a boundary wall for lack of money. "In the absence of the wall, trucks and rickshaws are occupying the plot," said the principal.
Annual spending of the school is Tk 10 lakh of which Tk 4 lakh is provided by the National Deaf Federation. The rest of the money comes from the tuition fees and renting out classrooms at off periods.
The school also works as the heart of the hearing-impaired community where marriages take place among them.