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Wearing non transparent facemasks a challenge for deaf learners

The government will engage Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) and special-needs professionals to provide guidelines for use in schools for the deaf across the country after it emerged that mandatory wearing of facemasks as demanded by the Ministry of Health had become a serious impediment to proper learning for deaf learners.

The deaf community communicates using gestures and signs but facial expressions remained at the center of total communication. From an early age, deaf learners are taught about the concept of total communication that includes proper use of sign language, gestures, body movement, facial expressions and lip-reading.

The mandatory use of masks in schools to protect deaf learners from contracting Covid-19 has had the unintended consequences of robbing them off the ability to use facial expressions and lip-reading when communicating. This has placed them at a severe disadvantage and compounded their learning processes in a classroom set up.

Prof. Hamadi Boga, Principal Secretary (PS) State Department for Crops and Agricultural Research admitted to this unique challenge for deaf learners and said KISE would be called on board to provide guidelines as part of government intervention.

Speaking at Mwanyambo Special School for The Deaf on Monday, the PS noted that the deaf learners’ challenges would be amplified to the relevant authorities and a solution found.

“We have interacted with the learners in the special school and realized the use of normal masks is a challenge because they cannot properly communicate using facial expressions and lip-reading,” he noted.

The PS was accompanied by his counterparts from State Department for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Blue Economy Prof Micheni Ntiba and Safina Kwekwe from State Department for Tourism in a two-day tour in schools across the county to assess the adherence to the Ministry of Health guidelines on Covid-19.

Ms. Elizabeth Mutuku, the head teacher for Mwanyambo Special School for the Deaf noted that lip-reading was made impossible by the use of masks. Most learners are using either the surgical facemasks or the reusable ones which were opaque and therefore could not expose facial expressions of the teachers to the learners.

She proposed the provision of transparent face shields for teachers and learners to allow for proper communication.

“They are taught to lip-read and blocking the mouth and large part of the face is a real problem to the learning process. Transparent face shields can overcome that particular challenge,” she told the PSs.

On Friday, the three PSs toured schools at the border sub-county of Taveta and later visited several schools in Mwatate. On Monday, they toured more schools in Wundanyi and later in Voi before proceeding to Kwale County for a similar exercise.

Prof Boga, who was the team leader, stated that all school managements had placed proper measures in place to avoid the risk of infection and spread of Covid-19. He added that all schools had hand-washing centers while learners had masks.

He however admitted that the issue of social distancing was a challenge especially in the boarding schools but noted it was being addressed as extra boarding facilities were under construction.

He cited Dr. Aggrey Boys High School in Wundanyi and Mwagogo Boys in Voi where the dormitories had a significantly higher number of boarding students.

“We noted that in the former, a new dormitory is almost complete while in the later, a contractor is already on the ground and working on a new construction to host the boarder students,” he said.

The PSs also engaged the learners in classrooms to evaluate their level of awareness on Covid-19, mode of spread and ways of protection from coronavirus. At Ndome Primary School, the PSs were awed after Grade 3 learners effortlessly recited the history of Covid-19.

Prof Boga expressed optimism that the public campaign on Covid-19 had penetrated to the grassroots and noted learners and teachers in schools knew what was required of them.

Other officials who accompanied the PSs include County Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha and the County Director of Education Samson Wanjohi amongst others.

By Wagema Mwangi

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