By Maupo Chisambi:
A latest survey by Emmanuel Teacher Training College (TTC) has revealed thousands of school-going children in Lilongwe are at risk of permanently losing hearing ability if authorities do not take corrective measures.
Audiologists say hearing loss and/or impairment is one of the most dangerous health problems as it brings with it double penalties. Firstly, the hearing loss reduces ability to communicate.
This reduction in communication is compounded by the second factor – the invisible nature of hearing impairment. Among students, hearing loss or impairment can potentially lead to their inability to participate in regular communication with teachers and fellow learners.
According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (Asha), children who have mild to moderate hearing loss, but do not get intervention services, are very likely to be behind their hearing peers by anywhere from one to four grade levels.
And for those with more severe hearing loss, intervention services are even more crucial; those who do not receive intervention usually do not progress beyond the third-grade level.
An audiologist at African Bible College (ABC) Hearing Clinic, Gospel Mangwiro, states that even hearing loss in only one ear has a tremendous impact on school performance.
Mangwiro discloses that research shows that anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of children with unilateral hearing loss are at risk of failing at least one grade level.
“Hearing loss causes delays in the development of speech and language and those delays then lead to learning problems, often resulting in poor school performance. Unfortunately, since poor academic performance is often accompanied by inattention and sometimes poor behaviour, children with hearing loss are often misidentified as having learning disabilities,” he says.
Except for those who wear conspicuous hearing aids, people with hearing loss have to contend with people around them who are unaware of their disability, people who become annoyed, angry or even contemptuous when the hearing-impaired person does not respond immediately to comments, inquiries or instructions.
Understandably, the person who is on the receiving end of such community reaction is likely to impose limits on his contact with the community and a cyclic process of isolation begins.
Alubain Sendeza, a teacher at Chigodi Full Primary School, says in addition to academic struggles in school, children with hearing loss also experience trouble socially.
Sendeza states that if a child with hearing loss is excluded from social interactions or is unwilling to participate in group activities due to fear of embarrassment, the result is that they can become socially withdrawn, leading to further unhappiness.
“Children with hearing loss are also slower to mature socially, which hinders peer relationships. And for us, as teachers, we find it very hard to deal with them in class,” she says.
Lameck Dyeratu, a sign language teacher at Nathenje Full Primary School, says disabilities, especially hearing impairments, are very high among pupils in Nathenje Zone.
There is good news, however. Emmanuel TTC and ABC Hearing Clinic are implementing a three-year Disability Inclusiveness Sanitation Hygiene and Environmental Conservation (Dishe) project.
The project seeks to promote inclusive learning for pupils with various disabilities including those with hearing and visual impairments. Under the project, the college also trains sign language teachers that it deploys to the 18 primary schools to enable them practice their job.
Bread for the World, a German charity organisation, is funding the project, which has been running since 2018, and is being implemented in 18 primary schools in Lilongwe Rural East and Dedza Northwest.
Emmanuel TTC Principal and Dishe Project Manager, Silas Kathyole, says through Dishe project, learners from Nathenje and Mtenthera zones in Lilongwe have been screened for various disabilities, including hearing loss, impairment and blindness.
“When the ABC Clinic clinicians discover the disabilities in the pupils, they provide treatment and supportive devices to them to improve their conditions and learning. Last year, we conducted free screening services at Kalumbu Full Primary School and this year, we have done the exercise at Mtenthera Full Primary School,” says Kathyole.
He adds: “The major objective of the project is to promote inclusive education because Emmanuel TTC believes this is the centerpiece for education. All children must learn despite their disabilities.”
Kathyole further discloses that, through the project, Emmanuel TTC has also constructed disability-friendly structures in some of the schools and improved sanitation and hygiene by constructing toilets and promoting care of the environment around the schools.
“We bel ieve that a clean and heal thy environment is conducive for inclusive learning for learners with disabilities,” he says.
Mangwiro says the project has registered progress towards containing the threat of hearing impairments and loss in areas under the project.
“Generally, the problems we find in the learners are wax and pus. So, we treat them immediately to ensure they are safe from hearing loss or impairments,” he explains.
Kalumbu Full Primary School Dead teacher, Jelifasi Chingauke, has since asked the TTC to intensify screenings, saying a lot of children could be suffering from these disabilities.
Eighteen-year-old Boniface Jabesi is a Standard Eight learner at Mwatibu Full Primary School and was one of the pupils screened for hearing loss.
He was given hearing aids after being diagnosed with extreme hearing problems.
“I am very thankful because my learning abilities will now improve for the better, leading me towards achieving my lifetime dream of serving my country as a soldier,” Boniface says.