Signs of woe among deaf ed­u­ca­tors

Sub­stan­tial is­sues’ found at cen­tre, writes Adele Red­mond.

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

SE­RI­OUS in­ad­e­qua­cies of a deaf ed­u­ca­tion board serv­ing thou­sands of chil­dren are be­ing ad­dressed by se­nior Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials.

The min­istry con­firmed four com­plaints had been laid about stu­dent safety, staffing and low achieve­ment at Auck­land’s Kel­ston Deaf Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre.

Ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal re­port ‘‘sub­stan­tial is­sues across mul­ti­ple as­pects of man­age­ment and op­er­a­tions’’ at Kel­ston – in­clud­ing its gov­er­nance, lead­er­ship and fi­nances – were iden­ti­fied af­ter a Crown man­ager was ap­pointed to its board of trus­tees, which also gov­erns New Zealand’s other deaf school, van Asch Deaf Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre in Christchurch.

The boards of Kel­ston and van Asch were merged in 2012 to cre­ate a na­tion­ally-con­sis­tent ser­vice net­work for deaf ed­u­ca­tion.

De­spite hold­ing $4.75 mil­lion in cap­i­tal re­serves in 2016, the board had ‘‘con­sid­er­able’’ fi­nan­cial deficits – about $1.1m – caused in part by fixed staffing and fund­ing al­lo­ca­tions, the re­port said.

Those deficits were ex­pected to deepen when fund­ing for three pro­grammes that help more than 1400 stu­dents and their fam­i­lies learn sign lan­guage ex­pires in June, but the Bud­get has ex­tended a $30m life­line.

The Com­bined Board for Deaf Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tres’ chair, Rachel Dou­glas, said the ‘‘pace and vol­ume of change in deaf ed­u­ca­tion over the last few years has been con­sid­er­able’’.

Since the boards were merged, a pro­gramme pro­vid­ing tu­ition to about 100 sign-lan­guage ca­pa­ble stu­dents had been in­tro­duced, and 2000 more deaf and hard of hear­ing chil­dren were re­ceiv­ing spe­cial­ist help at school, Dou­glas said.

The board was ‘‘happy to have the ser­vices’’ of Gov­ern­ment man­agers. Its unau­dited fi­nan­cial re­sults showed a small sur­plus for 2018, she said.

There are about 3600 chil­dren in the deaf ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Sev­enty per cent are iden­ti­fied as hav­ing per­ma­nent hear­ing loss at birth. About 96 per cent of deaf and hear­ing-im­paired chil­dren at­tend their lo­cal school with sup­port from Deaf Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre teach­ers, sign lan­guage in­ter­preters and teacher aides.

Natalia Kay, 7, and brother Jay­den Kay, 5, are as­sisted by a sign lan­guage in­ter­preter at Christchurch’s Banks Av­enue School when their cochlear im­plants don’t suf­fice.

Their teach­ers, some of whom are tak­ing sign lan­guage night classes, wear a small mi­cro­phone called a Roger around their necks, and in­ter­preters en­cour­age the other chil­dren to learn and use sign, the fam­ily’s pri­mary lan­guage.

Mother El­iz­a­beth Kay said their sup­port was ‘‘vi­tal’’.

‘‘We would love a bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion for our kids, where they were with other chil­dren be­ing ed­u­cated for­mally in sign lan­guage . . . but it’s just not pos­si­ble,’’ Kay said.

Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion deputy sec­re­tary Ka­t­rina Casey said grow­ing de­mand and the com­plex na­ture of deaf ed­u­ca­tion meant progress on a na­tional ser­vice net­work was tak­ing

‘ We would love a bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion for our kids, where they were with other chil­dren be­ing ed­u­cated for­mally in sign lan­guage.’ EL­IZ­A­BETH KAY

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