Wish to Come True: Full Integration of Hearing Impaired Students in Turkmenistan
In September 2016, Turkmenistan introduced a ground-breaking new measure to enable hearing impaired students to share classes with those who aren’t.
The new curriculum kicked in at the Textiles College located in Ashgabat, supported by UNDP, the Ministry of Textiles and UNDP national partner the Blind and Deaf Society of Turkmenistan which is one of the biggest public associations of persons with disabilities in the country.
The first of its kind in Central Asia, the objectives of this effort is two-fold: to allow hearing impaired students to develop skills at the same speed as all others, and showcasing the possibility of zero-stigma in academic environments across the country.
“In 2016 academic year, we have accepted 11 hearing impaired students into the group of 20 people. It is a mixed group and we have adopted new interactive teaching methods. Knowing that families with a child with disability often require financial support, the textiles college provided scholarships to 10 students. One of the students who did not receive a scholarship decided to cover the tuition herself,” explains teacher of the first mixed class, Natalya Vladimirova.
Until now, in Central Asia, persons with disabilities studied in specialized institutions, under separate curriculum. Many did not receive diplomas of secondary education, but certificate that they have not completed secondary education curriculum. This practice embedded the attitude of treating disability not only as a medical but also social phenomenon. As a result, social stigma and exclusion prevails.
During the 10-month course at the textiles college in Ashgabat, 11 students with hearing impairments will be mixed under the single curriculum with the current students. As suggested by the national and international experts, the college developed a single curriculum with improved teaching technics which includes providing interactive boards, hearing apparatus or sign language translation.
“It is important to introduce differentiated methods of education to make sure that students comprehend the materials better. For examples, students with hearing impairments are getting tired because they need to focus their attention on several sources: listen to the teacher, listen to the sign language translation and observe what happens around them. This means that students make more efforts to grasp the material. For this reason, teachers need to introduce new learning activities such as holding the tests on computers or showing the videos with subtitles, i.e. adopt the activities rather than change the requirements,” explained international expert Olga Krasyukova-Erns.
At the theoretical and practical classes of the textiles college, students with hearing impairments are obtaining a profession of the seamstress. For many the new programme supported by UNDP is the only chance to obtain professional education. By the end of the course, students will receive a diploma of completion or a certificate confirming their skills and knowledge received at the Textiles College.
“Hearing impaired students are more attentive in the class. They are investing more efforts because they know that this is a rare chance for them to receive an education. Personally, I don’t see any difference in mental or psychological abilities of the students. The group interacts nicely and I hear students saying that at first they were surprised and curious to see hearing impaired students, but now they don’t notice that their classmates require any special treatment,” continues Natalya Vladimirova.
The practice in which UNDP was quite instrumental will be a model, as such experiences are still rare not only in the country, but also in the region. During the course of past 2 years, UNDP has examined the national legislation on disability and highlighted the areas of potential cooperation with the government of Turkmenistan. Elimination of the segregation in education is one of them. For that, UNDP has provided leadership and computer and leadership skills training for more than 50 women with disability, and now closely cooperates with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Textiles to improve the teaching curriculum that will incorporate the notion of inclusiveness.
During the national forum with participation of three headmasters of vocational colleges in Ashgabat, participants talked about scaling up the results of the project to the national level and adopting the new approach to teaching of persons with disabilities with healthy students.
As of 2015, there were 9,809 persons with disabilities, as reported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Turkmenistan. 76 per cent are employed. Turkmenistan takes seriously the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strives to improve the situation.