I am indebted to my good friend, Nico van der Merwe, Founder & Director of EDUPLEX in Pretoria, South Africa, for contributing this blog. He, his wife, Anita, and son Nico Jr. are good friends and have been my hosts on a number of my trips to South Africa, starting long before the EDUPLEX was developed. This is a remarkable and impressive story based on a desire to help deaf children. Wayne Staab
A Model for Inclusive Education
In 1992 the Foundation for Children with a Hearing Loss in Southern Africa was established with the God- given vision “to make a difference in deaf education.” It took six years of preparation and in 1998 Dr Morag Clark (UK) became part of the team and played a major role in executing this vision. In 1998 training of the first professionals from existing schools for the deaf started and two years later it became clear that to expand the vision we needed our own training facility in an inclusive school environment. It was decided to establish the Eduplex (Educational Complex) in Pretoria, which would be a mainstream, parallel-medium school following an inclusive programme with separate Afrikaans and English classes. The facilities were custom designed for the specific needs of deaf children in a mainstream school, including acoustically treated classrooms, the use of the latest technology and the award-winning interactive gardens.
Mr Nelson Mandela opened the Eduplex Pre-School in March 2002 and said: “What you are doing here is changing tragedy into triumph.” The Primary School opened in 2003 and the High School in 2011. We currently have 586 children of whom 98 are deaf and 58 of these children dependent on bursaries, offered by the Foundation.
Every class has 25 children of whom 5 are deaf and the Natural Auditory Oral Approach forms the basis of language learning. The comprehensive language development programme encompasses all aspects of language learning and activities are incorporated in several contexts (classroom, individual conversations, therapy, small groups and more). The emphasis on spoken language ensures that all children reach a level of linguistic maturity that lays a firm foundation for literacy, numeracy and academic success. The thematic and group work approach provides opportunities for the children to become independent learners. This in itself is a further basis for the development of good study and work attitudes.
The emphasis being placed on the development of listening skills ensures focused attention in class. In this very visual world where children spend hours in front of the television and computer, it is necessary to encourage all children to listen attentively.
Deaf children are given optimal support to maximise learning opportunities. This includes:
- Small classes with a high staff/pupil ratio with a teacher and classroom assistant in every class
- Learning how to learn – developing individual working habits
- Emphasis on the development of the whole child with a wide range of activities including music and sport during and after the school day
- Quiet classrooms – acoustically treated
- Additional separate rooms off each classroom for small group and individual work. A key feature is that the child’s own teacher, who knows the individual needs of each child, gives this support
- Audiologists / Speech Therapists give additional help to the deaf children as needed
- Interactive gardens as an extension of the classroom
- Well-equipped hall / training facility for up to 300 persons conference style
- The normally-hearing children benefit tremendously from the small and quiet classroom environment, high staff / pupil ratio, the accent on listening skills and the creative planning of the facilities.
- The broad curriculum and the high academic standards make the Eduplex one of the leading educational facilities in South Africa.
- The curriculum is wide-ranging and also includes aspects such as nutrition (pre-school children get two balanced meals per day, including a healthy snack), muscle development (through sport and motor development activities), and social development.
Parent guidance forms an integral part of the programme. Parents become partners with the professionals and, in the case of deaf children, regular sessions of parent guidance are offered to the families in the specially-equipped Parent Guidance Facility. Audiologists make use of four two-room suites equipped with CCTV for the recording of parent guidance sessions. These video records form part of the longitudinal video records that are kept of each child from their first visit and form a comprehensive data base for research and training.
Audiological and Medical Support
Audiological support at the Eduplex is provided by audiologists at the nearby Ear Institute. They follow evidence-based practice in the evaluation of the child’s hearing, the fitting of amplification devices, and the verification of the fittings. The Eduplex audiologists also participate in the continued professional development programme at the Ear Institute. The in-house Ear, Nose and Throat specialist forms an important part of the team and provides treatment to many of the deaf bursary children.
In the Eduplex, modern technology (hearing aids, cochlear implants, Dynamic FM communication, classroom amplification and interactive white boards) plays a critical role in the education of the deaf. All deaf children are equipped with the very latest hearing aids or cochlear implants and the school provides the Dynamic FM systems. A full-time technician ensures the optimum functioning of all the equipment and is supported on a regular basis by factory-trained technicians from the Ear Institute. The classroom assistant performs a listening check of every child’s amplification system before the school day starts. Same day hearing aid service and repair and earmould manufacture form part of the service offered by the Ear Institute to the Eduplex.
The Eduplex is not only an educational programme for children and their parents, but also a training facility for professionals (teachers, audiologists / speech and hearing therapists) and students from various universities in our inclusive approach to the education of the deaf. In addition to ongoing training of our own staff, numerous professionals and students (nationally and internationally) have already received training in the Eduplex training centre. So far we have trained professionals from Austria, Botswana, Germany, Jordan, Kenya, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As children grow older their needs change. The high school was developed with the unique needs of the older deaf child in mind. In a developing country like South Africa, additional factors such as the late identification of hearing loss play a role in adding to the demands of deaf education. A specially developed academic curriculum caters for the academically strong child and the occupationally based curriculum for the vocationally inclined child. Although technology and support are still provided to deaf teenagers, independence and integration into the real world is a specific focus of the High School programme.
A High school, Sports Academy, upgraded After-School Care Centre, Skills Centre, Parent Guidance and new Training and Music academies are being planned and will be rolled out as donors come on board. Currently an additional six High School classrooms are being constructed to accommodate learners up to grade 10.