BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – School curriculums should be adapted to the needs of hearing-impaired students, said a special education officer, in order to provide equal access to education for students with special needs.

Speaking on the sidelines of the #hearwithus event on Sunday, Widiafalena Surhan, an officer with the Ministry of Education, explained that designing curriculums which adopt the use visual phonics and assistive technology can level the playing field for deaf and hearing-impaired students.

“It would allow the ministry to provide quality education to students by accommodating and encouraging the use of assistive technology,” she said. 

“Students who are hard of hearing often get left behind in class. They struggle  because physically they are there, but they miss out on most of the lessons because their hearing is limited.”

The half-day #hearwithus event was held at Universiti Brunei Darussalam on Sunday to raise awareness of the challenges faced by hearing-impaired students in the public education system.

According to the ministry’s latest statistics, there are 132 hearing-impaired students registered with the Special Education Unit, 52 of them in primary schools. 

Legislative Council member YB Iswandy Ahmad (C) speaking with Special Education Unit officer Widiafalena Surhan (L) as president of the National Hearing-Impaired Association (OKP), Muhammad Nur’Azwan Hj Aziz (L) looks on at the exhibition set up as part of the #hearwithus hearing impaired awareness event at Faculty of Integrated Technologies, UBD on Sunday, Nov 11. Photo: Rasidah HAB/The Scoop

Widiafalena explained that in primary schools, special education teachers work one-on-one with deaf students to teach them sign language, with a focus on expanding vocabulary and numeracy skills. 

“We also work closely with our psychologists in terms of access arrangement. For example, a hearing-impaired student who is going to sit for ‘O’ level exams will be exempted from the oral exam,” she said.

She added that those students will also be given 25 per cent more time to complete written exams.

Widiafalena said the distinction between deaf and hearing-impaired students is that the former primarily uses sign language to communicate, whereas the latter can still speak or use written language as their main form of communication.

“For the hard of hearing, their disability is considered invisible, because with the deaf you know to train them in sign language. But for the hard of hearing, they can still hear [to a certain extent] but they require training in lip-reading and eye-to-eye contact.

She added that access to quality education is crucial, so that hearing-impaired students have better chances of securing employment in the future.

According to national data, just 56 persons with disabilities are employed in the formal economy, out of the 9,282 special needs individuals registered with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.