Unlocking the Potential of Pre-school Deaf Children in Vietnam

April 17, 2014

  • Some 15,500 Vietnamese children five years old and younger are estimated to find it very difficult or impossible to hear, and most of them lack access to early education.
  • A project administered by the World Bank assigns a deaf mentor to teach sign language to each child.
  • The approach involves the children's families in their leaning and development.

Ho Chi Minh City, VIETNAM - In 1886, Nguyen Van Truong (also known as Jacques Cam), a young deaf man, returned to what is now Ho Chi Minh City after spending six years at the Rodez School for the Deaf in France. He took a tutoring position at the Lai Thieu School for the Deaf, the first of its kind in Vietnam, where he taught sign language to deaf children.

In 2014, deaf children at Ho Chi Minh City’s Center for Supporting and Developing Inclusive Education for People with Disabilities (CSDIEPD) are not just learning sign language. They are being taught how to understand the world around them and how to express themselves so they can be understood.

The center, along with five other centers in Ho Chi Minh City, Thai Nguyen, Quang Binh, and Hanoi, is testing an innovative method to improve the early development of deaf children. A “family support team”, made up of a deaf mentor, a sign language interpreter and a hearing teacher, work with young children in their homes, with their families. “This model offers a new way to help the children,” said Nguyen Thanh Tam, Director of the Ho Chi Minh City CSPIEPD. “We used to provide support at the center, but our facilities are limited. Now, we help 150 children in the center and another 170 children in their homes.”

Four-year old Linh Nguyen likes that teachers go to her house. "Teachers come to my house to teach me to sign. Today I learned about fruits and colors. They also teach my brother Tu, my grandfather, my father, and everyone else in my family." Both Linh and Tu were born deaf.

Supported by the Intergenerational Deaf Education Outreach (IDEO) Project, which is financed by the Japan Social Development Fund, administered by the World Bank and implemented by World Concern, the model has three key features:

•    Use sign language as the primary mode of communication, enabling deaf children to connect with their families and with the outside world;
•    Have deaf mentors as role models, advocates and sign language teachers, because they understand "from the inside" the realities of growing up deaf; and
•    Involve the family in the child’s learning and development.

The model brings together deaf adults, children and their families and, through a “family-centered, learner-friendly” approach, opens up communication to help the children realize their full potential.

“Two months after joining the program, my daughter can now communicate a lot with me. She knows many words now and tells me the names of different fruits when she goes out. She can also count,” said Dinh Vo Kim Ly, mother of Ho Vo Tuong Vi, a four-year old girl with hearing loss.

" Now we can all speak the same language. "

Linh Nguyen

Four years old, Ho Chi Minh City

Sign language: A tool for inclusive education

Learning a language is very important in a child’s development and in preparing them for primary school. The 2006 Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey, which included a special section on disability, found that 18 out of every 10,000 children found it “very difficult” or “impossible” to hear. By this estimate, some 15,500 Vietnamese children between the ages of 0 and 5 are in this category. Most of these children lack access to early education, while their parents lack professional support.

The Vietnam government has accepted sign language as a tool for inclusive education, but the nation’s expert resource - its signing deaf adults, who possess the unique empathy and ability to use sign language for a full range of purposes - has not been systematically mobilized, trained, and hired in childhood education. The project is helping change this by training deaf mentors, sign language interpreters and hearing teachers to make sure deaf preschoolers get quality education.

Hoang Kim Phuc, a sign language teacher at the Hy Vong School for Children with Disabilities said, "I am a person with hearing impairment. When I was young, I could only learn by spoken language so I advanced very slowly. Now, with the combination of both sign language and spoken language, deaf children can learn quickly and understand what's happening around them."

Not all deaf Vietnamese children currently go to school. A pre-school education will help get them to integrate quicker and better into society and have better prospects of getting into school in the future. A recent evaluation noted that, even after just three months of participating in the IDEO project, feedback has been very positive. The parents in particular report strong learning and improved behavior in their children.

Young Linh sums it up nicely: “Now we can all speak the same language.”