A common difficulty for many parents or students to make is to decide which school to apply and attend.
But it’s a completely unique and different set of challenges for d/Deaf or hard of hearing students. It’s not about deciding which school to go to, but rather whether to go to a mainstream or deaf school.
It’s a complex situation because the big challenge is that there isn’t a clear-cut answer that suits everyone.
But to help you go in the right direction, it’s crucial to understand the difference between mainstream school and deaf schools, whilst also understanding the pros and cons of both types of schools.
Important: this post is a guideline and you should use that as such. Also be aware that every single student, regardless of whether that person is hearing, deaf, hard of hearing, ethnic minority, wheelchair user, family background, etc. is different. Do bear that in mind as you scroll down below.
If you just want to get an overview of this topic, you can get that below:
- Mainstream school is the general, non-specialised schools that most young children goes to, have the same classes and curriculums that are standardised by the education board and are generally consist of hearing students and staff.
- Deaf school is a niche non-standardised school designed for young children who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing and mainly taught in sign language by specialised ‘teacher of the deaf’.
- Everyone has their own experiences and requirements. One person’s education experience does not mean another person will go through the same experience.
- When deciding which type of schools to go to, the top priority should be on the child rather than the parent/guardian.
Below is an overview of what could happen in both types of schools if you are d/Deaf or hard of hearing:
|At a Mainstream School||At a Deaf School|
|Likely to be the only or one of the very few D/HoH students||Be amongst many D/HoH students and less likely to be lonely|
|Classes and curriculums are standardised by the authority||Classes and curriculums are not as standardised but may be more flexible to accommodate each students|
|Academic standards are seen as higher and more widely accepted by colleges/universities||Dependent on schools and locations, academic standard may be seen as lower|
|Teachers are rarely deaf aware and may struggle to cater for each students||Teachers are deaf aware and can cater to each students’ individual needs better|
|Better prepared for the “real” (hearing) world||Not as prepared for the hearing world outside of the school as hearing students|
|Very little to no use of sign language, with oral languages being used more||Sign language is the main form of language to enable easy communication|
|3rd party interpreters (if funding is available) are required for signing students||No 3rd party interpreters are required as staff and students already communicate in sign language|
|Topic of deafness are seen as disability, “special needs” and a medical problem||Deaf culture are seen as part of a proud socio-cultural minority group|
|Deaf culture, history and linguistics are unheard of by most people and not taught||Deaf culture and history are taught and encouraged with strong Deaf role models included|
|Widely accessible in most countries with many options of schools to choose from in most areas||May struggle to find one near you, as they are less available and harder to find|
|Some teachers and fellow students may lack appreciation or compassion for the students||Teachers and fellow students have complete appreciation or compassion for the students|
|May require additional tutoring, speech therapists and other forms of private lessons in order to keep up with the rest of the class||May be able to keep up with most students and the demand of the classes|
You can watch the video…
…listen to the podcast…
…or read on below.
Table of Content (Click on the link below)
- What is Mainstream School?
- What is Deaf School?
- Pros & Cons of Mainstream Education for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students
- Pros & Cons of Deaf Education for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Students
- My Personal Experience as a Deaf/Hard of Hearing Student in a Mainstream Public Schools
What is mainstream school?
The most common type of school are the mainstream schools that most people are familiar with.
They are the general public/private schools, which are taught using oral languages and authorised under the same local education authorities. Most of the students have no forms of disabilities or special requirements (thought they still do exist, which is something that I have experienced with).
What is deaf school?
Although they are less common than mainstream schools, deaf school are more niche but still exists across the world.This is where the school is naturally catered for the d/Deaf or hard of hearing students and their respective needs.
The school predominantly taught and communciated in sign languages by specialised ‘teacher of the deaf’ who have better understanding and deaf awareness about their students than the generic mainstream teachers.
Pros & cons of mainstream education for deaf/hard of hearing students
Let’s go over the pros and cons of mainstreaming deaf students:
|Classes and curriculums are standardised by the authority||Likely to be the only or one of the very few D/HoH students which can then create sense of loneliness|
|Better prepared for the “real” (hearing) world||Teachers are rarely deaf aware|
|More options are available and more widely accessible in most areas||Very little to no use of sign languages|
|Academic standards are seen as higher and more widely accepted by colleges/universities||Teachers may struggle to accommodate and understand the needs of deaf students|
|May require additional tutoring, speech therapists and other forms of private lessons in order to keep up with the rest of the class|
|Deaf culture and history are not understood|
|Deafness is seen as “special needs” and a problem rather than a proud identity|
|There are little to no compassions due to lack of deaf awareness in most schools|
It’s important to understand that how a d/Deaf and hard of hearing student goes through mainstream school is different to one another. What one student goes through will not necessarily mean the exact same thing will happen to another.
Everyone will have their own experiences and the table above is a common but still somewhat of a general overview rather than a guarantee of what will happen.
You can look at my own personal examples of attending mainstream school.
Pros & cons of deaf education for deaf/hard of hearing students
And now, let’s go over pros and cons of attending deaf schools:
|Be amongst many D/HoH students, thus more likely to have interactions with other students and less likely to be alone||Colleges/universities are less likely to understand or accept the generic non-standardised qualifications|
|Teachers are more deaf aware and can be better support the individual students’ needs||May not be as prepared for the hearing world outside of the school as hearing students at mainstream schools|
|Sign languages are more common, which minimises any communication problems that can come as a result of not hearing other people talking orally||Less options are available near you and you may have to uproot to attend a deaf school|
|No extra funding are required for interpreters||There are question marks over the academic standards, depending on the schools and locations|
|Being d/Deaf is a proud identity, with Deaf culture and history are frequently taught|
|Everyone will have an understanding and compassion for the students|
And just as mentioned earlier, an experience from D/HoH student to another is unique.
Since I have never attended a deaf school, you can get a general idea of what goes on behind-the-scenes at one deaf school in Rochester, New York in the video below:
My personal experience as a deaf/hard of hearing student in a mainstream public schools
Throughout my entire life, I have attended mainstream schools, but I never considered not doing that. It was normal for me, which perhaps made it easier by not being profoundly deaf.
Until recently over the past few years, I’ve always wanted to blend in with the society and live a “normal” life. There were always the challenges of being the only black person in the schools, but the thought of being the only deaf person was not something I wanted to share.
So there were certainly a few challenges along the way, you can learn about what it’s like for me to be in mainstream schools as a deaf student here or watch the video below:
So after all that, what’s the best solution?
There isn’t any, because there are too many variables and other factors that could affect your decision.
For example, your geography could determine which school you have access to.
Your finance could determine whether you choose to go private or public school.
The level of hearing ability could decide whether it’s better to be around hearing oral students or deaf students who speaks sign languages only. So a person who is mildly deaf/hard of hearing and uses oral languages may prefer to go to mainstream school. But a profoundly deaf person who is fluent in sign languages is more comfortable at a deaf school.
Regardless of which one you go for, the most important decision is to make the decision that best suits the student who is attending the school, not the parent/guardian.
If you are the student reading this…
gather as much knowledge as possible and make a decision that makes you feel comfortable about your future. Try to talk to as much people as possible, gain insights from students who are in both schools and make an informed decision.
And if you can, don’t feel pressured into attending one or the other.
If you are the parent or guardian reading this…
…don’t make the decision that makes you feel comfortable and suits your needs (like the story in The Silent Child).
It’s not about you. It’s about your child’s comfort, education and future, rather than about yours. So try your best to think from the perspective of your child rather from your own.
Unless you disagree with me about anything on this post?
Let me know in the comment below whether you agree or not with any of my statements.
And if you have your own knowledge and experiences that you can share, I’d love to hear them below.
- “Which sign language should I learn first?” – My thoughts - May 5, 2021
- “There should be a universal sign language…” – My thoughts - April 27, 2021
- How to make the most out of your audiology appointments & your audiologist? - November 12, 2020