In a survey conducted on deaf students enrolled in a deaf education institute, Wangsel Institute in Paro, it was learnt that 49 percent of the students were born deaf while the rest 51 percent became deaf after being sick or after an accident.
One of the main aims of the institute is to make its students independent in the future. The co-curriculum activities, like games and sports, cultural activities, vocational training, scouts, literary & arts and various clubs offer the range of possibilities to explore. Wangsel Institute offer classes till class X only, but there are plans to upgrade the institute to class XII in future.
A class IX student of Wangsel Institute, 17-year-old Tshering Dorji from Samdrup Jongkhar said that he could talk and hear until he was 3 years of age. He lost his hearing ability because of the lack of care when he was ill back in his village.
He was confined to his house until he found out about Wangsel Institute from his uncle. Tshering joined the institute in 2009 and he was mesmerized to see other deaf friends communicating with each other.
He hand signed, “I wanted to communicate as well but being new to sign language, I couldn’t communicate like them. Till class II, I did suffer but with time I could communicate like others and I am thankful for the opportunity.”
He also said that he tried to encourage other deaf friends in his community to join the institute but they do not want to come as they are into farming. The children who have hearing impairment don’t want to come to school. “And some, even if they want to come, their parents don’t send them as they feel that it is far and involves so much of hassle,” he added.
Tshering Dorji has dreams of leading a productive life. “Until now my parents did suffer and now it’s my turn to earn some money with my own ability and help them in village. Though I cannot hear, I believe in myself and I will do my best to serve them. I don’t regret being deaf because I can see my future,” he added.
Similarly, 21-year-old Sonam Choki from Jabana, Paro said that she said communication was always challenging, as she did not know the mode of language to interact with others. She has nine siblings and three of them were born deaf.
“This makes us alone and different. We sometime feel that we are being emotionally harassed. Just because we are deaf, they down look on us and they tend to make us work for them. Otherwise we are no different from others,” she stated.
She said that she is interested in tailoring. “I have been learning tailoring. I will work hard to get myself enrolled in tailoring course to help me in my future. That way I can help my parents as well,” she added.
Likewise, a class X students, Dechen Pem from Zhemgang has five sibling, of which two are deaf by birth. She is interested in weaving and she is taking time to learn weaving to support herself and her family financially.
She said, “I would like to thank institute and teachers for giving us the opportunity and for making us capable to lead our lives in the future. And I urge everyone to support people like us and the institute.”
According to the Principal of Wangsel Institute, Dechen Tshering, 6 students graduated from the school last year.
“We have yet to find a way out to enroll them in better jobs. Nevertheless, after talking with education and labour ministries, for now, the passed out students are temporarily appointed as a sign language teachers in the school,” he added.
He also said that around six students are to graduate this year. He has talked with the ministries to see the possibility of enrolling them in Zorig Chusum in Thimphu. To see the capacity and capability of the students, teachers from Zorig Chusum will visit them on 12 December.
When it comes to enrollment of students at Wangsel Institute, a maximum of 20 students enrolled in 2018. This high number of enrollment, the principal believes, is due to more awareness. Otherwise, in the past, only 5 students or so join the institute. He said, “Now that we are creating awareness and targeting a maximum coverage, we are getting more numbers. Developments are taking place every year, and we feel that with time we will receive more number of students every year.”
He also said that they are getting good support from policy makers and they are looking forward for the same from the lawmakers in the country.
A teacher of Wangsel Institute, Dechen, said that they face many difficulties and challenges while dealing with the students. She said that when the deaf students come to school for the first time, it is challenging to communicate as the sign language they teach them is completely different from what the students have been using at their homes.
“They get frustrated, whereby it becomes difficult for us to control them. We fail to convey the message to the child on what is right and what is wrong. However, after so much of try and with time they do change themselves,” she added.
She also said that some students often land up doing something bad, like experimenting with drugs. “When we try to explain them that it is wrong, there they say why they can’t do it when other people (those who can hear and talk) can do. In such situation, it becomes difficult to convey the right message to them,” she added.
Creating awareness among the parents is another challenge. “There are parents who feel that it would be an extra burden sending their deaf child to school, which is wrong,” she said. Dechen further said the institute is a school to help them and teach them so there is a reason or a hope to live.
A student shared that she was suicidal due to the frustration of being an outcast in her community, but after joining the Wangsel Institute, she shared that the happiness she got from the school and having friends that she can communicate have elevated her hopes.
According to the Principal of Wangsel Institute, Dechen Tshering, teaching deaf students is more challenging, mostly in terms of the communication barrier.
He said, “If we know the sign language then it won’t be as difficult as it is today. This is the main issue at current.”
Teachers are given an interpreter but they fear that the students may not be able to interpret 100 percent, as the teachers are not trained separately on how to interpret the lesson spoken to sign language.
“We are also not sure if students are getting our message 100 percent. We have been requesting the education ministry to give a separate training for interpreters, and I believe that the ministry is working on it. In few years time, I hope that we will have at least four to five teachers trained outside as interpreters,” the principal added.
In addition, he also said that the people think that all the teachers are well trained and reached at that position (interpreter). “It is nothing like that, they are all general teacher, and it is just that every year Australian government sends one volunteer teacher to Bhutan to provide them the training on sign language.” He said that is about all the support received on that front.
He said in other countries, there are different sign languages for different regions. “Whereas in our country, we are planning to make only one sign language so to avoid confusion, communication gaps between themselves and to make it more convenient and simple,” Dechen Tshering said.
The institute is also in contact with Draktsho in Thimphu and Draktsho in Trashigang so uniform sign language, which is currently used in the Wangsel Institute, is used. “We have been receiving good and positive support from UNICEF and our ministry, and we are with a hope to make one single sign language in the country,” he added.
Wangsel Institute was established in 2003 with 2 hearing teachers, 3 students and 5 deaf staff. At present the institute has 110 students, 8 deaf staff, 21 hearing teachers, 4 vocational instructors and 8 supporting staff.