Sharin Raj, who teaches English to 17-19 year olds at Sekolah Menengah Pendidikan Khas Vokasional, a vocational school for the hearing impaired in Malaysia, has spent the last four months at Kent State University as part of the International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP). She has taken graduate classes with U.S. students and attended seminars designed especially for ILEP teachers from around the world. She has also participated in cultural activities and spent time in local schools in Ravenna, Ohio.
“I like the way teachers handle students here,” says Sharin. “They respect them…encourage them and go the extra mile to help them….I participated in a graduate class in which one of the students was hearing impaired. The lecturer went all out for her and made many accommodations…and all the students were learning sign language, so they could communicate with her.”
She also notes, “Interventions happen early here. Home visits teach parents to speak to their children and help them with their hearing aids….They are encouraged from an early age to make sounds and are included in classrooms with hearing students.”
“My school is a self contained school and…a lot of my students have trouble securing jobs or keeping jobs when they get one.... I am all for sign language, but helping them speak and interact with hearing students will increase the likelihood that they can be successful in their jobs.”
In Ohio Sharin experienced a different approach. “I met hearing-impaired students at the high school and middle school using speech and language like hearing individuals. Some used hearing aids while others used cochlear implants….Most of these students are doing exceptionally well in their studies,” she comments. “The ability to use speech and language enables hearing-impaired students to be on level…with the hearing majority.”
Ms. Raj attended collaborative unit meetings with her partner teacher where all those working with one child focus on his or her strengths and weaknesses. “It’s hard to collaborate. It takes time, but it’s good for that child,”says Sharin.
Ms. Raj also took a course on multicultural counseling. “My country is a multicultural society -- multi religious and multi racial,” explains Sharin. “The exposure to multicultural counseling that I obtained made me aware of the manner in which we need to handle students without imposing on their culture....Sometimes the syllabus may overlook and not address the needs of a certain culture. A student might have a Chinese mother and an Indian father and that child needs to learn how to accept him or herself. If teachers can be sensitive to cultural issues such as this we can teach students to embrace diversity and help them progress in life.”
“Diversity,” she adds, “helps us to progress as a nation.”