• Destiny Yarbro

Diversity in Deaf Educational Experiences: Ghana, Vietnam, South Sudan, Finland, Uganda

Author Discussing Deaf Rights in South Africa

The diversity in educational experiences is clear in the context of Deaf education, especially when we consider these real-world examples:

  • A Ghanaian instructor dismissively stated that there was no point in teaching Deaf children since they will “only leave school to beg” (Yarbro, 2020). One of these students, Victoria, lost both of her parents and could not afford a school uniform until another teacher stepped in to pay her way.

  • In Vietnam, Khiem’s college applications were turned down by universities for years because of his limited written language skills (The Deaf Dream, 2018).

  • South Sudan had only a few Deaf schools but they are currently out of commission with the Sudanese civil war. Deaf refugee, Kelai, has lived in the Kiryandongo and Bidi Bidi refugee camps in Uganda. Forming Deaf communities in the camps, informal education is dominant (The Deaf Dream, 2020a).

  • When a Deaf baby is born in Finland, the family is immediately assigned members of the Deaf community to teach them sign language, free of charge (Conama, 2010). The majority of Deaf in Finland have master’s degrees and know multiple sign languages, like Finnish Sign Language, Swedish-Finnish Sign Language, and other European sign languages, as well as a plethora of written languages, like Finnish, Sami, Ramany, and Swedish (Kekkonen, 2013, para. 1).

  • Deaf, like Jerry in Uganda, are called “mad” by the hearing community and are too often considered unable to learn, let alone attend higher education institutions (Pamungu, 2020, para. 3).

Even if students had no other stratifying elements (like financial, familial, or location limitations), the perspective on “dis”ability in countries around the world makes for severe variations in Deaf educational opportunities and life-altering tracking practices in the classroom.

The vast spectrum shown in the four examples above fits with the idea of schooling having a sociological function because we can see how closely social priorities, values, challenges, biases, and education are interwoven. The idea of schooling having a sociological function is further supported when we consider Deaf education through the four manifest functions listed in Theoretical Perspectives on Education (2010): socialization, social integration, social placement, and social / cultural innovation.

Deaf and Socialization

First, as 90% of Deaf students are born to hearing parents (and 80% of these parents do not use sign,) many Deaf students arrive at school with limited language and socialization experience and need school to learn “the norms, values, and skills they need to function in society” (NIDCD, 2016; Theoretical Perspectives on Education, 2010).

Deaf and Social Integration

Second, Deaf students learn social integration at school, unifying (perhaps homogenizing) themselves under the curriculum most often determined by hearing administration and teachers. [A common trend among majority and minority groups as addressed in the video by Wiseman (2013), Human Rights: Frieres (sic) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Part 2, and in Crash Course’s video, Schools & Social Inequality (2018).]

Deaf and Social Placement

Third, social placement plays a heavy role in the education of Deaf students. Case in point, because many Deaf students in the U.S.A. are tracked since birth with the label of communication disorder given to them when they “fail” their first hearing test, they are often tracked to special education classes which reinforces ableism on the part of the teacher and leads to debilitating self-fulfilling prophecies on the part of the student (Long-Crowell, 2013).

Deaf and Social / Cultural Innovation

Fourth, as a society we are lacking the valued contributions of Deaf experts because too many Deaf students experience limitations that impede their influence in social and cultural innovation. Foundational knowledge, learned both in and out of the classroom, is so heavily dependent on language access that Deaf students who do not have parents and teachers who sign and few examples of Deaf experts to inspire them will find themselves lacking in their social and cultural contributions through no fault of their own.

The Pygmalion Effect: Improving Their Belief in Success

The function and purpose of education for Deaf students should particularly emphasize the following manifest and latent functions. Each student should have the right to develop their knowledge base, passions, characters, and vital skills like reading, writing, speaking, and financial math, with the assistance of a bilingual teacher who disregards premature labels and believes in them. This absolute support leads to the Pygmalion Effect, improving a student’s self-efficacy, their “belief in his or her ability to perform the actions necessary for success” (Grimsley, 2015). A full education will increase their ability to support themselves, directly benefiting society, but will also “go far beyond these monetary gains” as it “makes people healthier and gives them more control over their lives. And it generates trust, boosts social capital, and creates institutions that promote inclusion and shared prosperity (World Bank, 2018).

Let's Come Full Circle

Victoria, the Ghanaian student mentioned at the start of this paper, graduated this year in teacher training and was hired as a Deaf teacher at the Cape Coast Deaf School (The Deaf Dream, 2020b). Khiem now teaches at a Vietnamese university that once turned down his many applications. Kelai, the South Sudanese refugee student is currently studying at a technical college in a neighboring country. And the Ugandan student, Jerry, graduated this year and co-founded a nonprofit organization handing out face masks, food, and other resources during COVID-19. Perhaps, despite the flaws specified in sociological theories like the conflict theory and symbolic interactionism, these are examples of what education’s purpose can and should be.

Deaf Students in Ghana, Vietnam, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda. www.TheDeafDream.org


Conama, J. B. (2010). Finnish and Irish sign languages: An egalitarian analysis of language policies and their effects (Doctoral thesis, University College Dublin, Dublin). Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://library.ucd.ie/iii/mobile/record/C__Rb1870441?lang=eng

Crash Course. (2018, January 22). Schools & Social Inequality: Crash Course sociology #41. [video] Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://youtu.be/hYMk3Bk08NA

Grimsley, S. (2015, September 7). Pygmalion Effect: Definition & Examples. Retrieved on October 2, 2020, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/pygmalion-effect-definition-examples-quiz.html.

Kekkonen, K. (2013, June 17). Finland. Retrieved October 2, 2020, from http://wasli.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/178_finland.pdf.

Long-Crowell, E. (2013, March 5). School Controversies: Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and Tracking. Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://study.com/academy/lesson/school-controversies-self-fulfilling-prophecies-and-tracking.html.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD]. (2016, December 15). Quick statistics about hearing. Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing

Pamungu, J. (2020, June 12). Jerry’s Letter of Gratitude. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://www.thedeafdream.org/post/jerry-letter-of-gratitude

The Deaf Dream. (2018, July 12). UPDATE: Khiem taught 56 hearing university students! Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.thedeafdream.org/post/2018/07/12/update-khiem-teaching-56-hearing-students

The Deaf Dream. (2020a, February 24). Introducing Kelai from South Sudan. Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.thedeafdream.org/post/introducing-kelai-from-south-sudan-deaf-dreamer-7

The Deaf Dream. (2020b, August 4). Deaf Dreamer: Victoria’s Journey to Graduation. [video] Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6c-Gz7XraJ8

Theoretical Perspectives on Education. (2010). In University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing (Ed.), Sociology: Understanding and changing the social world. Retrieved March 3, 2018, from http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/chapter/16-2-sociological-perspectives-on-education/

Wiseman, A. (2013, April 18). Human Rights: Frieres (sic) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Part 2. [video] Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yQgvEjACuQ

World Bank. (2018). Ch 1: Schooling, learning and the promise of education. In World Development Report 2018 : Learning to Realize Education's Promise. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28340

Yarbro, D. (2020, October 1). Re: Sociological Theories of Education. [forum post] Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://my.uopeople.edu/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=373697

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