Hearing-impaired students excel in Turkmenistan’s first integrated curriculum

Hearing impaired students in the classroom / UNDP Turkmenistan

As a child, Nargul faced difficulties at her school. It had nothing to do with her abilities. She is hearing-impaired, and unfortunately, faced bullying at school. After a while, it was too challenging to study with other speaking kids, and she stopped going.

Like Nargul, the almost 10,000 people living with disabilities in Turkmenistan face challenges when it comes to education and employment. For many it is a dream that seems to be unachievable, due to self-esteem, the absence of inclusive education, and social stigmas that exist among children and adults alike.  

In Central Asia, persons with disabilities study in specialized institutions, under a separate curriculum. Many did not receive diplomas of secondary education, but rather certificates 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, not all of those living with disabilities are able to overcome the social stigma and create opportunities for themselves. While 76% are employed, it is mostly in low-paying jobs.

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 off at the Textiles College in Ashgabat, supported by UNDP, the Ministry of Textiles, and UNDP national partner the Blind and Deaf Society of Turkmenistan. The first of its kind in Central Asia, it allows hearing impaired students to develop skills at the same speed as others and showcases the possibility of zero-stigma in academic environments across the country. The project was made possible with financial support of the Government of Finland. 

In September 2016, 11 hearing-impaired students matriculated in a class of 20.

Students, including Nargul (left) of the college work on their textile projects.     
Photo: Julie Pudlowski / UNDP Turkmenistan

For the course, the college developed a single curriculum with improved teaching technics which includes providing interactive boards, hearing apparatus or sign language translation.

“It is a mixed group and we have adopted new interactive teaching methods… It is important to introduce differentiated methods of education to make sure that students comprehend the materials better,” explains Natalya Vladimirova, the teacher of the first mixed class.

The program has provided a space for those with hearing impairments to spend time with others who have shared their challenges, and also gives them an opportunity to collaborate with those outside of the hearing-impaired community.

“When I first met people with disabilities here at college, it was hard to get used to it,” says 18-year-old Aylar, who is not hearing-impaired. “But now…we are friends, we go out.

In June 2017, the first mixed class graduated from the textiles college, and all of the hearing-impaired students found jobs. Their strengthened skills and diplomas made sure that employers saw them as professionals. As did the women themselves.

“My biggest dream is to start working. I want to be a boss,” says 39-year-old Ayna.

And for Nargul, now 24, the college has given her confidence to achieve her dream. “I want to be a teacher and a translator. Studying at the Textiles College make me feel that I can.”

This new single-curriculum practice will be a model in Turkmenistan. During the last 2 years, UNDP has examined the national legislation on disability and highlighted 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 disabilities, and now closely cooperates with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Textiles to improve an inclusive teaching curriculum.

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