New guidelines promote inclusion, effective communication and a stigma-free environment for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in schools. These guidelines empower teachers and lay the groundwork for positive change in student mental health.
A new set of mental health guidelines for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in the Gaza Strip has been published. These guidelines were developed in collaboration with CBM's Eastern Mediterranean Programme, Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The guidelines will support and promote the well-being of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in educational settings.
“This groundbreaking guideline marks a significant milestone in the Eastern Mediterranean Region's program, promoting inclusivity in the learning environment for students with disabilities. It showcases the power of collaboration and shared commitment in achieving goals, serving as an example for progress in education and mental health for all students,” say Omar Alsaket, CBM’s Representative for Eastern Mediterranean Programme.
Addressing Unique Educational Needs
Deaf and hard-of-hearing children often face unique challenges in education and community settings, including communication barriers and social exclusion. These difficulties can exacerbate mental health problems and have a negative impact on their academic attainment. The challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing children are particularly pertinent in the Gaza Strip, a region impacted by conflict and socioeconomic crisis. They experience negative attitudes and a lack of accessible communication, resulting in their exclusion from school and the community.
Schools play an important role in promoting inclusion and wellbeing, and considering these challenges, the new guidelines provide teachers with a comprehensive framework to effectively address the specific needs of deaf and hard of hearing students.
The guidelines were developed based on research conducted by the International Centre for Evidence in Disability at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children. The research included a systematic review of international literature, qualitative research with key stakeholders in the Gaza Strip (including deaf and hard of hearing children, parents and teachers), and pilot study at a number of mainstream and special schools. The development of the guidelines was guided by a local steering committee, comprised of deaf and hard of hearing leaders, caregivers of deaf children, teachers, mental health experts, and representatives from government institutions, including the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education. This collaborative working environment and evidence-based content has ensured the guidelines are feasible to implement and appropriate in addressing the needs of deaf and hard of hearing children to promote their wellbeing.
“Our aim in developing these guidelines was to generate evidence-based recommendations, driven by a strong collaborative process. The reaction to the guidelines has been extremely positive and we are confident that they can provide a useful tool with which to promote the inclusion and wellbeing of deaf and hard of hearing children in schools across the Gaza Strip,” says lead author Nathaniel Scherer, Research Fellow, LSHTM
Key Features of the Guidelines
The key features of the guidelines emphasise the crucial role of teachers in developing inclusive education environments for deaf and hard of hearing children.
The guidelines encourage teachers to include deaf and hard of hearing students in all school activities to strengthen their sense of belonging and acceptance among their peers. By creating a stigma-free environment where all students are treated with respect and understanding, schools can play an important role in promoting the mental health and well-being of these students. Throughout, the guidelines provide activities that teachers can use in their classrooms to promote inclusion and build the self-esteem of deaf and hard of hearing children. Examples include a buddy system, wellbeing journals and inviting a deaf adult to visit the school. A cornerstone of the guidelines is the need for accessible communication. They advocate the use of sign language and other visual forms of communication in teaching practise and provide teachers with practical tips with which to improve communication with deaf and hard of hearing students, helping both their inclusion and engagement in learning. The guidelines also highlight the need for teachers to work closely with family members and caregivers to promote a holistic approach that extends beyond the classroom and ensures continuity of support for the child's mental health at home.
A Milestone for Teacher Empowerment
The development of these guidelines marks a significant step forward in empowering teachers. It reflects the commitment of CBM, Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and BMZ to equip teachers with the necessary tools and knowledge to positively impact the mental health of deaf and hard of hearing students in the Gaza Strip. Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children are currently working in partnership with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education to roll-out the guidelines to schools across the Gaza Strip. They have also developed a training programme for parents and school staff on mental health and psychosocial support, which includes using the guidelines in practice.
“The guidelines aim to facilitate the inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing students in public schools, minimizing negative psychological effects that may hinder their academic achievements. As the first of its kind in Palestine, we hope it successfully achieves its goals and becomes beneficial for other regional and international communities,” says Naim Kabaja Director of Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children.