Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Deaf children helped to beat numeracy gap
Deaf children are behind with numeracy skills
A few hours of extra teaching can help deaf children overcome numeracy problems, which leave them struggling to keep up with their peers, say researchers.
It is estimated that deaf children are three and a half years behind hearing children in numeracy skills.
Researchers at the Institute of Education in London believe one of the reasons is that they miss out on much non-direct learning.
This includes games which help teach children numeracy skills and general background conversation, for example, about shopping and the value of money.
Professor Terezinha Nunes, one of the researchers, said: "Hearing children may find out how numbers work through incidental learning in everyday life.
"Deaf children have fewer opportunities to pick up on environmental conversation so miss out on crucial bits of experience which is vital for maths.
"So much of education of deaf people is geared to teaching about words."
The researchers have developed a simple extra lessons which they think can accelerate learning.
"It doesn't take weeks. It's a matter of hours or minutes. It involves teaching deaf people how to use a particular mathematical concept."
Teachers have been experimenting with the system and the researchers are analysing the results to see if it closes the learning gap.
The researchers also studied the emotional and social development of 36 eight- and nine-year-old deaf children in mainstream and special schools.
They studied their relationship with hearing children and found that hearing children did not exclude deaf children when choosing friends.
Some even expressed an interest in learning sign language so they could better communicate with their deaf friends.
The researchers also spoke to the parents of deaf children and found that the birth of a deaf child to hearing parents could provoke a crisis in communication.
Some 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
Professor Nunes said parents had to decide how to communicate with their child and some rejected sign language, fearing it was a very visible sign of disability and could stigmatise their child.
Others chose to use hearing aids and other hi-tech gadgets, telling their children that many children had problems and deafness was just another thing to be overcome.
"They choose a medical model, seeing deafness as something like needing glasses to read. But for most deaf people it is not as simple as that," said Professor Nunes.
"Sign language might not solve all the problems, but at least it is a more direct way of trying to communicate with children."
Special schools for the deaf are increasingly being closed, with the government trying to get more pupils into mainstream education.
The researchers said their study was important to ascertain the social and emotional development of children in special schools so they could measure whether their absorption into mainstream schools made any big difference.