SINGAPORE: The school holidays have just started, but 10-year-old Deaclan Kua is already back in school for lessons, however it is not for the usual remedial class.
Together with several other students, the Mayflower Primary student is learning sign language, as the school prepares to take in six pupils with hearing loss in the primary one cohort next year.
A group of 12 students - most of whom had volunteered - were selected to be buddies to their deaf peers.
“Today, I learned some sign language and the roles and responsibilities of being a hearing loss pupil's buddy. I want to help them feel normal and lead a normal life. I’m very excited to have a chance to help them as they enter this new environment,” said Deaclan.
“I volunteered to be a P5 buddy because I want to help them feel like a family member of Mayflower, so they feel comfortable and welcome,” said another student, Mary Le.
These students are being “coached” over the school holidays, so they are equipped with some basic sign language skills. They have also been given booklets and video links related to signing so they can practise at home.
The school said two buddies will be assigned to each deaf pupil and their role is to take care of them outside the classroom, for example, during recess time.
In class, a specialised teacher proficient in sign language will conduct lessons alongside the subject's teacher. They will also help to look out for the deaf pupils and inform them when the school bell rings.
“We will rely very much on the teachers and the buddies to keep a lookout for their hearing loss friends. In the canteen, for example, there will be cue cards placed at the drink stall, where the children will use a choose-and-point system to indicate their preferred drink to the vendor," said Mrs Lim Siow Ling, principal of Mayflower Primary.
“The vendors have all been briefed about this and they are preparing their cue cards. In fact, they've also expressed their wish to learn very simple sign language in order to do some basic communication with the students,” she added.
The rest of the school community is also looking forward to learning sign language. From next year, students and teachers can opt to take an after-school sign language module, which the school is introducing as an elective.
The lessons will take place once a week for a few months. So far, one-third of teachers have already indicated interest to take up the elective.
Previously, it was announced that school-wide infrastructure provisions such as visual announcement systems, visual fire alarms and visual door bells would be introduced.
However, these will only be available in 2021, as the school will be undergoing upgrading works soon and have to relocate to a holding site. It will not have such facilities at the temporary site.
To help the mainstream students better understand the needs of their peers with hearing loss, Mayflower Primary will be conducting assembly talks at the beginning of the new school year to “settle in the children and explain to them how learning is going to be different in the classroom”, said Mrs Lim.
“They are used to having a teacher in the classroom but now we’re going to have two. The challenges would be to quickly integrate the new community into the existing school community, and I think we have to do this by regularly having conversations with the children to help them understand that these children are no different from them,” she added.
Ms Barbara D’Cotta, one of the two specialised teachers at the school, said it is important for everyone in class to learn how to communicate with each other.
“Speaking is faster than signing and there might be that small time lapse where we have to wait for the deaf child when they answer a question in class, and I will have to interpret what the child is signing. They have to get used to the fact that one is signing and one is using speech and we have to accommodate each other.”