IM this article to a friend!

May 19, 2003

Bhutan to begin deaf education

From: Kuensel, Bhutan - May 19, 2003

Khandu Om, a deaf teenager, swings her hands up gesturing a plane flying. Then she holds an imaginary book on her hands. She is trying to say that she wants to study in Paro, where there is an airport.

Participants will research, collect and record the deaf sign language for Bhutan

Khandu Om and her four teenager friends, and seven other participants, are currently attending a 10-day workshop in Thimphu to develop a Bhutanese sign language for deaf people in the country.

The workshop, resourced by two deaf education experts from Thailand will research, collect and record the deaf sign language of Bhutan. Deaf education is a priority programme in the Ninth Plan.

As of now, Bhutan does not have any education facilities for hearing impaired people although the national institute for the disabled in Khaling does respond to the needs of visually impaired children.

"Although the deaf education in Bhutan is just beginning Bhutan has an advantage of a late beginner," the director of the department of general education, Thailand, Dr Maliwan Tammasaeng, told Kuensel. "Bhutan can avoid the mistakes we made."

"For example, a large range of subjects made it difficult for the deaf students to be admitted in the mainstream schools," said Dr Tammasaeng. "It becomes more difficult since sign is the only language of the deaf."

Sign language is visual where one uses eyes to "listen" to the person communicating through signs using the fingers, hands, arms and sometimes other parts of the body.

"Most people think that sign language is one international language and that it is merely a manual version of the spoken and written language," Dr Tammasaeng said. "This, however, is not the case. Each sign language has its own syntax and grammar as in any spoken language.

Therefore, executing a sign correctly is equally as important as pronouncing a word correctly."

For accurate and clear pronunciation in sign language careful attention must be given to slight distinctions in hand shape, palm orientation, location, body movement, rhythm and facial expression.

According to Dr Tammasaeng there are as many sign languages in the world as there are normal languages. For instance, a girl in Bhutan is referred to in sign by pointing to the head and gesturing the straight hair. In Nepal one would gesture at the nose because the Nepalese women use a nose ring. In England it would be a gesture at the side of the chin referring to the strings of the headgear the British women initially wore.

Alison Rhodes, a UN volunteer coordinating Special Education in the education department, said there are differences in the sign language within Bhutan too. For instance, a girl from Trashigang might refer to red colour gesturing at her lips and another from Thimphu might point at her cheeks. "This workshop will find these kind of variations and decide on a common sign," said Alison Rhodes.

A support centre for the deaf will be set up in Drukgyel lower secondary school to provide education for the hearing impaired pupil between six and 25 years. Two teachers will be trained in the Philippines and the formal classes are scheduled to begin in September. Eventually one deaf teacher will also be trained. The five deaf teenagers who are participating in the workshop will also assist in running the unit.

The unit will initially take in 10 students from all over the country. Alison Rhodes expects more children turning up for the admission. "Recently a lot of people have been calling me and identifying more and more deaf people they know or are related to," she said.

While the German-Bhutan health friends' association will fund the construction of the unit, UNICEF and CBM International will fund the training programmes for the teachers and necessary equipments. As of now there are about 400 hearing impaired people in Bhutan.

By Gopilal Acharya

Sign: the mother tongue of the deaf

At least one child in 1,000 is born profoundly deaf. Many develop hearing impediments later in life because of accidents or diseases.

Persons born deaf cannot speak. Since they cannot hear they cannot copy speech. Therefore sign becomes their mother tongue. They think in sign and communicate in sign. But, if one goes deaf later in life he can still have a good speech though they will not be aware whether they are speaking loudly or softly.

Deafness is like watching television with sound turned off. One cannot hear what people are saying and will be confused about what is happening on the screen.

Copyright 2003 - Kuensel