A DEAF person either cannot hear, or has never heard spoken languages - be it Bahasa Malaysia (BM) or English - used in education.
But to learn, they have to master at least one first language, which should be used as a medium of instruction and learning.
The mastery of this mother tongue is vital as a tool to learn a second language, which would either be BM or English, said National Education Advisory Council member Prof Dr Ruzita Mohd Amin.
“A deaf person is bilingual or bicultural. Early education of deaf children must emphasise the use of a language that is considered to be their first language. The Malaysian Sign Language (BIM) serves this purpose,” Prof Ruzita, who also heads the International Islamic University Malaysia disability services unit, and was the former member of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, said.
Children who are deaf at birth find it difficult to use the Manually Coded Bahasa Malaysia (KTBM) - a signed form of oral BM, with the addition of some local signs, and grammatical signs representing affixation of nouns and verbs - as grammar is an abstract notion for someone who has never heard, and cannot hear, how it is used.
“I’ve had complaints that teachers who do not have skills in sign language are posted at schools for the deaf. It disrupts the delivery of knowledge and the effectiveness of our education system. Teachers in special education must be properly trained,” she said, calling for more special education programmes to be offered at universities.
She also suggested that a local version of the United Kingdom’s Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, be enacted.
Deaf students who make it to the tertiary level should join the same classes as hearing students, and sign language interpreters must be hired so that they are not sidelined.
In 2012, the then Higher Education Ministry (now merged with the Education Ministry) directed all public varsities to establish a disability services unit to facilitate the teaching and learning of students with disabilities.
This directive must be adhered to and extended to all private universities, she stressed.
A deaf child, she said, is a gift from God.
The word ‘deaf’ means inability to hear. From the community’s perspective, there is nothing wrong in the use of the word as it is an accurate description of their condition.
The word only becomes politically incorrect when it is used negatively. For example, when a person does not respond, statements like ‘Are you deaf?’, is used to criticise.
But the deaf are normal human beings granted with the same faculties as everybody else, she said.
It’s the duty of parents, teachers, and society, to mould them into academically and professionally successful individuals.
“Parents must nurture their deaf children with love just like they would any other child, and to do that effectively, parents must learn their language.
“Teach them how to be independent. Give them room to grow. Don’t be over protective as it would prevent the child’s self confidence from developing.
“Children need to be treated with respect and shown that their condition should not be a hindrance to their success in life.”
To give them access to education, the use of sign language must be promoted, and the services of sign language interpreters, provided.
Sign language courses should be offered in schools, colleges, universities, and in the workplace, to promote better communication and integration of the deaf into society.
Sign language should be treated the same as other languages, with official posts created for sign language interpreters, she said.