There are several controversies which are often discussed by parents, professionals, media and policy makers regarding special education of the hearing impaired. The two most important such controversies are as follows.
Segregated education is education in special schools designed especially to satisfy the needs of the hearing impaired students. This may include both specialized manpower and specialized infrastructure. Such schools have specially trained teachers who are supposed to use specialized techniques, methods, aids and appliances to teach. Such schools also include acoustic and architectural designs which are tuned to the needs of the hearing impaired.
On the other hand integrated education is education of a hearing impaired child in any school which is for non impaired children – popularly but quite incorrectly known as ‘normal schools’.
The controversy generally revolves around what is better for the hearing impaired children. Unfortunately, there are no ready made answers in terms of what is better and what is not. However, the following points helps one to form one's own opinions.
One does not have to select a particular type for a life time. There are children who go to special schools for foundations of education and then, more readily move on to integrated education. Most of the special schools too aim at integrating their students. On the other hand there can be students who try integration initially and shift to a special school.
Whichever type of school the parents select they have to be alert about some things.
To conclude, both integrated and segregated set ups are required to deal with hearing impaired children with varying kinds of clinical and non clinical background. Education is a must for any child and the hearing impaired child is no exception. Whichever the type of education, it must smoothly lead the child to become a fully functioning individual – an individual whose potentials are developed fully and whose social interactions are fruitful. One cannot completely guarantee what will work with which child.
Normal hearing, non impaired children acquire the speech and language skills automatically, swiftly and quite early in life. With a hearing impaired child language development is not as easy as that. Since hearing capacity is directly and closely linked with speaking, problems in hearing inevitably lead to problems in speaking. Although there is nothing wrong with the hearing impaired child's speech organs, he/she is unable to acquire speech and language skills automatically. Because of this, it is common experience of all of us that most of the hearing impaired individuals we meet are unable to speak clearly. Hence the hearing impaired are incorrectly knows as ‘deaf & dumb’. Actually the deaf are not dumb – they can learn to speak if they are taught rigorously by parents and professionals. But, because of the inherent nature of the problem, the hearing impaired (at least who have profound hearing loss in both the ears, since birth) cannot acquire speaking and language ability EFFORTLESSLY.
What then is the solution of this problem? Different scholars have tried attacking the problems, differently. Hence the controversy – oral versus manual mode of communication. There are scholars who think that since speech CAN be developed it SHOULD be developed. Speech can be developed successfully only with a lot of preconditions like the child has to be tested very early in life below the one year age or even six months, it has to be fitted with hearing aid immediately after that, its rigorous training must begin by professionals and parents etc. Therefore, some scholars believe that rather than trying to develop speech, sign language can be introduced to the hearing impaired child. According to them LANGUAGE is important and the speech and hearing impaired individual can function fully well without speech. Sign language is like any other language (and not a mere collection of gestures) - Hindi, English or Marathi having its own grammar. Only, instead of speaking, manual mode (body movement – hand movement) is used.
A few basic facts about this controversy are given here: