E-Learning and Deaf and hard of Hearing Learners: Part 2
Part one of E-Learning and Deaf and hard of Hearing Learners presented the mistaken assumptions of online learning for deaf and hard of hearing learners and the preferences to suit the individual learners needs. In this second and final instalment Brain Caul discusses the truth of stats and possible solutions to making e-learning more attractive to deaf and hard of hearing learners.
Answers from research
It has come as a great surprise to me that there is very little current research on the approach of online learning and support offered to deaf and hard of hearing learners. The Consortium for Research in Deaf Education (CRIDE) has published a 2015-16 survey of provision in Northern Ireland. It was estimated that there were 1,497 deaf children, 25% of whom had severe or profound hearing loss and 75% mild or moderate hearing loss (out of a general population of 1.86 million). Serving these children are 33 full-time equivalency (fte) Teachers of the deaf, 98% of whom are qualified, the others being trainees. The proportion of qualified staff has increased in recent years, but the actual number of posts has slightly declined.
An important 2012-13 study by the National Deaf Children’s Society in Scotland (NDCS) reveals several worrying facts. Almost 10% of deaf school leavers departed with no school qualifications, compared with 2% of all pupils in Scotland. Overall, there were improvements in qualifications achieved at SCQF levels 4 and 5 by deaf pupils, but a decline of 3% in the numbers achieving higher education entry qualifications compared with 2011-12. (33.3% compared to 64.5% of overall student numbers). Deaf school leavers continue to be over-represented at college level and under-represented at university level.
Making e-learning more attractive to deaf and hard of hearing learners
It appears that there are simply not enough qualified note-takers and interpreters and priority has to be given to enhancing communication support. Electronic note-takers, either situated alongside the learner or remotely, are essential to effective e-learning, but it seems that there is insufficient money available to recruit the numbers required. Inadequate numbers of interpreters also means that there are delays in booking replacements when the need arises. Bearing in mind the point made earlier about the importance of individualized learning contracts, continuity of the interpreting service is vital to the morale of the deaf learner. In Northern Ireland (and perhaps elsewhere?), there is concern about the capping of the Disability Student Allowance (DSA). In effect, this must lead to cutbacks or false economies in provision, and it is simply not good practice to recruit low level or unqualified support workers.
Not for the first time, the Open University has taken a lead and decided to grapple with the unsatisfactory lack of participation by deaf and hard of hearing students by asking deaf professional staff from representative organizations to take part in short pilot projects. In one case, five staff are taking part in a one day experimental e-learning course in April, during which they will identify their individual needs as learners in relation to interpreting, group interaction, location of study (home, office, library quiet room), and reflect on the importance of good continuity of provision. Deaf colleagues hope that, by taking part in such pilots, they can “plant the seeds” among deaf and hard of hearing people to pursue higher education qualifications, and therefore later job opportunities, with greater confidence.
Sadly, it appears that access to higher education for deaf and hard of hearing learners has generally diminished in recent years. This has grave implications in that the existing gap in equality of opportunity may be widening even further. My hopes that online e-learning offers a revolutionary pathway for greater access have been faced with raw and hard obstacles, some practical, some attitudinal. The initiative taken by the OU could perhaps be replicated by universities, colleges and community adult learning enterprises to make the prospect of e-learning more palatable and achievable for deaf and hard of hearing learners. Over the decades, it has been all too obvious to me that, during periods of economic stringency, services for people with disabilities always suffer disproportionately. This is undeniably linked to the fact that, in the past, their representatives have lacked a powerful political voice to insist on being granted their legal rights. The dynamics surrounding us today therefore have yet again a familiar ring. All people in a democratic society have rights to education and a reasonable quality of life.
Can e-learning be developed and adapted in ways that effectively address these fundamental principles?
All comments and ideas on these issues would be most welcome.