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March 22, 2004

Deaf Education in Jamaica

From: Global Deaf Connection - Mar 22, 2004

Title: Improving education for Jamaica’s Deaf children
Author: Amber Martin
Organisation: Global Deaf Connection (GDC)
Country: Jamaica

The Jamaican Association of the Deaf in Kingston invited GDC, along with representatives from the Ministry of Education, Deaf culture facilitators and other representatives to discuss the next step in improving education for Jamaica’s Deaf children. I went as a volunteer Global Ambassador for GDC. I expected that a large part of my work would be devoted to convincing people that Deaf can. I was wrong.

From the moment the meeting began it was obvious that the participants agreed on one thing: Deaf adults should be teaching deaf children. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness put into the discussion, as well as the openness with which Jamaicans discussed the issues. I was not there, as I had planned, to convince people that Deaf adults should be teaching the Deaf children. I was not preaching about the importance of using sign language in the classroom. Instead what I found was a well-organized Deaf community that has already made those most important steps toward improving Deaf education.

There are few Deaf adults who regularly come to St. Christopher’s School for the Deaf, in Brown’s Town. One Deaf woman travels around the island to support activities at many of the schools and at the Jamaican Association of the Deaf in Kingston. Other Deaf adults visit classrooms on occasion to assist teachers in their work. But, there is no Deaf teacher, or even Deaf people working in the dormitories as counselors. When the Global Ambassadors from GDC arrived at St. Christopher’s School with three Deaf Jamaican leaders, there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere of the school for the two weeks of our stay. One leader, who had attended St. Christopher’s School as a child, unquestionably demonstrated the need for the children to have Deaf adult teachers to act as role models for the children. When he stood before the children, his welcoming demeanor and commanding confidence captured the children’s attention and respect immediately. Children suddenly became engaged in interaction with the teacher in a way that is rare in the classroom with a non-signing hearing teacher.

It is an amazing feeling to be involved with the innovative programs that Global Deaf Connection has established. When Deaf adults become teachers through GDC’s programs, the whole world changes. Five years ago when a deaf child was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the question was often met with a puzzled look, “But, I’m deaf…” Now, Deaf children have a positive role model, someone who is successful, engaged, and active in the children’s daily lives. Today, the same question is met with a bombardment of answers, “a doctor, a principal, a lawyer, a teacher!” And, the changes we see do not end with the Deaf children. Parents are enthused by the education that their children are now getting, hearing teachers see the children in a new way, even those outside the school are beginning to see that Deaf can!

There are still miles to go, of course, and hurdles to jump. The hearing teachers at St. Christopher’s school for the Deaf, recognize the need to improve their signing. They are aware of the needs of the Deaf children to have access to language. They know, as the Deaf in Jamaica have known for years, that the school needs Deaf teachers. Now, because of the organization and determination of the Deaf community, partnerships with the programs that GDC offers and the skills of the volunteers, Deaf education in Jamaica has the vital support it needs to continue the work that they have started already. Deaf education is slowly, but surely, changing and it is amazing to be a small part of that change.

About Global Deaf Connection
Global Deaf Connection (GDC) ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving Deaf education in developing countries by providing Deaf adult teachers to teach in the local sign language. Currently there are programs in three countries, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and most recently, Jamaica.

Jason Sem
Program Exchange Director
Global Deaf Connection
2901 38th Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 724-8565 V/TTY