NORWEGIAN SPECIALIST PRAISES CAPE TOWN ORAL SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE
Written by Ingebjørg Skaug – Oslo, Norway
I recently accompanied my husband on a visit to Cape Town where he did research at the Tygerberg Hospital. We both work in the field of Audiology and Speech Therapy. I am a speech and language therapist with 20 years’ experience in teaching spoken language to hearing impaired children with the Cochletten Foundation in Oslo.
During my stay, it was suggested that I might be interested in visiting the Carel du Toit Centre for the hearing impaired. This extraordinary school specialises in the teaching and facilitating of natural spoken language for children who are born with hearing impairment. I have visited many centres for hearing impairment in Europe, but I can only say that what I found in Cape Town was way above what I had encountered abroad.
I was interested to discover that the headmistress, Mrs Ruth Bourne, presumed that in my native Norway, state funded habilitation was universally available and earmarked every hearing impaired child regardless of choice of language and pedagogical setting, but regrettably this is not the case. State funding is only available to those who choose the Sign Language route. This is of course wonderful for those who make that choice. The parents who make the alternative choice of using hearing technology to develop spoken language, as practised at Carel du Toit, have to fight individual battles with their children’s schools to get adequate help with language acquisition. As the schools receive no funding from the state to help these children, they are considered to be an extra economic burden on a restricted school budget. Some are lucky and get what they need, and some are not. In Cape Town, I found that both choices, spoken language and Sign Language were funded (albeit inadequately) by the State.
Despite this lack of sufficient funding, it was obvious that the commitment of the school and its staff was excellent. To our advantage, in Norway, it is legislated that all newborns have hearing screening. It is essential in the management of hearing impairment that hearing problems are diagnosed within the first six months of life if the child is to overcome the barriers caused by the hearing loss and to realise his or her full potential. This is manifestly possible, given the procedures available today and should be a human right of every hearing impaired child.
Early cochlear implant surgery is now a standard procedure in Norway but due to the direction of our funding – towards Signing – the full potential of the implant is not utilised in all the children when it comes to spoken language acquisition. At Carel du Toit every child given an implant will receive intensive language therapy and in most cases the child acquires normal language abilities through developing their listening skills and are able to function well in a hearing world.
I had the privilege, while at the school, to watch various classes in progress. The children, using art, music and movement. I learned that each child was given one to one speech therapy, weekly, in a well-equipped therapy room. The school offers physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Families of the children are fully involved and this is essential to the success of the programme.
Furthermore, the building was excellently designed for teaching and there is an auditorium for the children to stage shows wearing headset microphones like little pop stars. I was impressed by the amount of airy space and the atmosphere was warm and caring with smiling faces everywhere. This was a dream for me!
In Norway we don’t have any pre-school or primary education facilities for hearing impaired children where only spoken language is used. There is only one (private) oral secondary school for the hearing impaired.
Carel du Toit is way above any of the schools I have visited. The rest of South Africa should follow their lead – so should Norway!
Leaving the centre, I spotted a photo of Nelson Mandela on a visit to the school. On his lap is a toddler. He is wearing a hearing aid, as is Mr Mandela. The famous Father of the nation wanted to build a new South Africa where all children – irrespective of race and background – are treated equally. I am writing this to you, dear Editor, to express my admiration for the school in achieving of this goal of equality and the wonderful work it is doing in its work of bringing spoken language to hearing impaired children.