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Executive Director's Blog

Starting from Alphabets ....
Blog entry by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, Oct 5, 2015

We admitted a group of 19 students to our Higher Education Foundation Program (HEFP) recently. This is the group that was at the low end of the rank list in the entrance exam for our degree (hearing impaired) program. We knew most of them are very poor academically but may have potential to learn. They have a 12th grade certificate but that doesn’t mean anything in terms of their level of knowledge. Our plan is to set the foundation right for these students and see how they will be able to attempt the entrance examination next time. I was interested to find out some insights about this group and decided to mentor one of them. Probably somebody who is lowest ranked among them. I chose one and let me call him Ramesh so as not to reveal his identity.

Ramesh is my student. I met him first during the interview for the HEFP. His mother is an illiterate woman and his father doesn’t get involved in the family at all. Even as he came for the interview, the faculty had reported that there is something wrong with this boy since he was not following instructions and seemed to be disconnected with his parents. Later when he reported to class, I was told that he is a loner and didn’t know sign language at all and was not following anything in class.

I knew this case could be a one-off case that needed attention.

My wife and I visited Ramesh’s home one evening last week to understand what is the situation at home like. I was curious. It was small house in a village not far from my home. His sister and mother were at home. Ramesh’s sister had attended school till 12th. She communicates with Ramesh, but the parents don’t. We spent about 15 minutes trying to understand the family. His mother is the primary bread-winner working as a house-maid. His father hardly shows up at home.

Since I had taken Ramesh to our home earlier once, he knew the location. I asked him to come home on the next Sunday at 10.30 am.

He showed up on his cycle by 10.10  am. I started by asking him to write the English alphabets. He couldn’t. He was not able to get them in sequence. He wrote A, then B but he couldn’t go further. He tried to continue by writing random letters like P or S. I realized Ramesh doesn’t know English, Malayalam or sign language.  So I tried to teach him the sign for each of the letters. He started writing the letters corresponding to the signs. I prompted him to write them in order and then I quizzed him. He was still not able to get right letters such as F, G, M, N, R, S and W. We tried several times. He was not making progress. So I focused on the difficult letters and the signs. Repeated several more times in different ways, but he was not making much headway. I thought, probably this could be a little bit boring too. So after about an hour, I told him to take a break, visit his uncle who stays nearby my house and come back.

He came back with in an hour. I was not sure if he would have retained what I taught him earlier. I had all the reason to believe that he would have forgotten and I was ready to start all over again. That was logical since Ramesh was not able to retain the letters during our last session. Even after trying a few letters, he was forgetting the older ones we tried.

But I saw something amazing. When he came back and I showed him the signs and I asked him to write he started writing without any mistake. He was so confident now. I couldn’t believe this. I didn’t have any explanation. I thought that he would have forgotten, and here he was repeating without any mistake. We tried several times, may be about 10 times. He was amazingly accurate. I quizzed him with random letters, back and forth and he was getting it right every time. A total change. I don’t know what happened. He was able to write by himself all the 26 letters in the right order too.

He was retaining more than what I thought he will. I don’t know what this means. I am going to try the small letters now and then start on words. I am going to review from beginning once in a while to make sure that he is retaining. I don’t know how far he will go, but I am curious.

To me it looks like that he has the potential but before I make conclusions, let me observe….

During the beginning of 2010, we had the experience of interacting with a student in Madiyado, MP where he didn't know the concept of addition or subtraction although he was in 9th grade. So it was not an unusual tencounter with Ramesh... but...

 

I am angry in a way, at the system that wasted a young man’s life for about 12 years without even teaching him basic alphabets. And then a 12th grade certificate was given to him.

On a positive note, we have 18 more in our classrooms and my colleagues are doing the extraordinary work trying to open their mind to the world of knowledge!

A Note on Teacher's Day!

Blog Entry by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, September 5, 2015

Today I wrote the following to my colleagues at NISH. 

"Teachers who love teaching, teaches children to love learning"

"A good teacher is like a candle. It consumes itself to light the way for others"

"Today you lead the school. Tomorrow your students will lead the world"

A Big Salute once more to the teachers, on this September 5 " The Teacher's Day". 

As I have said before on numerous occasions, teaching is the most noble profession, because you pass on the knowledge humans have acquired, so that human race can make progress tomorrow. You are that unique person who can motivate and encourage a student to be a positive contributor in his or her generation!

So,

Be proud to be a teacher. 

Be thankful to be a teacher! 

Be committed to be an inspiring teacher!

Any body can teach language, audiology, speech, computer science, accounting or fine arts or anything else.But only those who love teaching and see the big picture can inspire the student! Teaching doesn't happen if you lecture for an hour, but when the student understand something new and then go forward on his own to find out more!

Every moment is a teaching moment for a teacher. Every day, tell yourself "Today I will inspire my students at least in small way". Don't worry if you have no idea now. It will come. Just be ready when the bulb goes ON in your mind! Bring the relevance of the topic you are teaching to an inspirational thought. That will light the spark and start the fire in that young mind! Let inspiring be a habit in your life!

Everyday I am thankful for all of you who are committed and are pushing teaching and learning to one notch higher! 

Use technology. Experiment. Try something new. Brainstorm with others. 

Don't be afraid. Don't be shy. Don't doubt. The world is waiting. You can do it!

I am very sure, graduates from our programs are going to storm the world and will inspire others too!

All the best for a good weekend! Happy Teacher's Day!

Independence Day Thoughts!

Blog Entry by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew - Independence Day Thoughts. Uploaded on August 20, 2015

India is a young democracy compared to several other countries. Looking back, 1947 marked the turning point in India’s long history of foreign invasions and colonial rule. It is 68 years since people of the north, south, east and west of ‘Bharath’ came together to follow a common destiny – our own. Today, there are a number of things from that journey that make us proud. India is the only country that came out of a foreign rule through a non-violent movement. With passive resistance and mass movement, Indians did it against the ‘Empire where sun never sets’. India is one of the few countries that came out of the colonial rule and still have a sparkling democracy in action. Considering our diversity and the massive population, this is a great achievement. Several of our neighbours and the countries in Africa and Asia who got independence from a colonial power, fell into autocracy or military rule. India stood tall and vibrant all through these years. Our diversity is amazing. From South to North and from West to East, the cultural variation, the food habits, the dress, the traditions, the physical appearance are so different, yet we are one dynamic democracy!

However, we do have a long way to go. As an educator my thoughts linger on the education system. India had its own unique way of education in the distant past – Gurukulam. A system where the teacher imparted knowledge and skill to the student who stayed with the teacher. That is not practical today when education is a basic right and everybody needs to acquire a skill. The British system of education was introduced to prepare a group of people who obeyed orders and did the work efficiently for a well-oiled colonial machine. That didn’t encourage critical thinking or social responsibility. That is why we have to change dramatically for our next generation to be prepared to be a responsible society that surges ahead.

I have a vision for an education system where the future generations are molded holistically to become productive citizens. We don’t live in isolation. So context is important. We are not stagnant in time. So critical thinking and adaption to change is important. We are not permanent residents here. So we need to pass on what we acquired to the next generation.

In a nutshell my vision for education is this. A child starts to learn from the day it comes into the world. We don’t have much control over the love and care a child gets from its parents. However, when it is time for formal education, the first thing to be taught is to be curious and to be amazed at the nature around. Introduce this about three years. One should learn to ask the question ‘Why?” throughout one’s life. That will happen if the child is taught to look at plants, touch animals, and observe the heavens. This should continue into primary level. The next stage in education should be value system – respect for others, treat others as equals, share with others, be fair, put in effort in anything one does, have self esteem, love others unconditionally, be compassionate, be sensitive to other cultures, be accountable to oneself and to the society. This second stage should come in about four years of age. Then in the next stage, starting about five years, a child should be taught to read and write and do math. If we follow this system, I am sure we will have a generation that will make us proud, help the human race to progress in a balanced way. I am looking forward to implementing such a system of education!

Difficult Questions for which I don’t have an answer!

Blog Entry by Dr.Samuel N. Mathew, Executive Director on 2 Aug., 2015

I regularly meet parents who have children with disabilities. Yesterday was one such day. The Early Intervention Department (EIP) organized a meeting of the grandparents of children who attend our program. About 9 of the grandmothers met me for about 2 hours. They have adult children who are deaf. Most of the children have deaf spouses. The children born to them are also deaf or hard of hearing. The grandmothers are taking care of these young children. Most of these adult children either don’t have a self-sustainable job or they are unemployed. The grandparents have a double burden on them. They raised their children who were deaf and now they have to take the responsibility of taking care of the grandchildren and also in some cases meeting the expenses of the adult children. Some of the children have diplomas, degree in some subject or the other, but they are not able to get a job. The grandparents’ own financial situation is not stable at all.

Most of the grandparents wanted their grandchild to be implanted with cochlear implants where as their children and their spouses wanted nothing to do with that. They vehemently oppose any such suggestion. I explained to them that the adult children listen to their friends rather than their parents because they have stronger attachment and connection to their friends from childhood. When the children were small, their parents didn’t take the time to connect with them emotionally and they were isolated from the family. The next best thing that happened to them were their friends whom they trusted and conferred with. It is no wonder they listen to them. Earning their trust is the only way in which the parents can talk to them and convince them.

Some of them wanted to do cochlear implant, but the ongoing cost of maintaining the implant was scary. Beyond the warranty period, the cost of the cables and coils are prohibitive.

About their being unemployed, that is a problem for all the people with disabilities (PwD). One aspect is that employers are skeptical or prejudiced to PwD. The other aspect is that during the education they received either the teachers skimped on the information or let them go without learning. The employers are looking for people who can be productive. So a person with disability, without knowledge is not employable. The only way a person can get work is to be extra knowledgeable and be with positive attitude ready to take on any job.

The grandmothers wanted me to provide them with work. I was helpless and I told them so. They are almost in tears describing their financial difficulties. Some of them were relieved that I could meet with them and talk to them. I told them that I will be happy to do that again. I came off with a heavy heart.  They are having double burden at an age when they should be retired and relaxed. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Gazing into the dark, I wonder how can we get them some sort of help.

Is it a job?

Blog post dated May 26, 2015. Written by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, Executive Director

Over the years NISH has earned a reputation to be a good institution. Our team earned it through hard work and dedication. The good name gives positive images about NISH in the public eye. So when we advertise for positions, a lot of people apply. They all express their desire to work in a great institution, pursue a good career in a good institution etc. Subsequently before we conduct interviews, I make it a point to address the candidates. I tell them frankly that we are a service organization and our pay package may not be the best in the market. We are looking for people who have an interest in education, special education and social work. The pay here may start on daily wages. Not really at the top of the range too. We pay decent wages but it may not happen at the start. If people are looking for money and their career as the primary motive to apply here, we know they won’t stay back long. If dedication to teaching, passion for serving, desire to make a difference in others’ lives are the primary motivating factors, I know they will stay.

People at NISH don’t work for the pay package. They work for the customers who come in through our doors – the students, the patients at clinics and the parents. Our organization will only keep the reputation of service excellence and quality if we continue to get the right people in our team. So it is not uncommon that too many people may not stay back. But those who do, is what our team is made up of, and they are our strength !

Few days back, a person who was employed here resigned and before he left he came and met me for a few minutes. What he said impressed me, “Sir, I am leaving because I need the money and I got an offer that pays me almost double, but the working environment here is the best I have seen in any organization. People are so committed, helping each other and are energetic”. Well, that says it all. We may not attract the talent that Microsoft or Sony or Samsung attracts. But we will be able to retain those dedicated souls who will make a difference in others’ lives! That counts when it comes to serving people with disabilities. I am proud to be a part of the team!

Helping Prospective Students Make Informed Choices about Courses!

Blog Entry Dated 14 May, 2015 by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, Executive Director

Yesterday, we had our first orientation program on campus for BASLP. About 100 students and their parents turned up (both parents in some cases!) to learn about the Bachelor of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology (BASLP) course. Our goal was to help the students make an informed choice about this course.

It is not uncommon in India for students to choose a degree program because their parents want them to. Sometimes they or their parents think there is a lot of job opportunity and choose a stream of study.  Study guidance or career counselling is not generally available. The Universities of colleges don’t conduct open-houses or course introduction to prospective students. Nobody asks if the student has a personal interest in the field of study and ensuing work. We have seen several students who join BASLP and then regret that they did. In the inflexible Indian University system, once you join a course it is difficult to change the major, unless you go and take fresh admission and start over. Most don’t do that because it means loss of fees paid already and the lost time.

So, this year, our teachers decided to have an orientation program for all our courses. We completed the sessions for the degree program for deaf students in April and that was a big success. The parents and the children really appreciated how we conducted the sessions and explained to them details of the course. I wrote about this my blog earlier (Orientation Program for the Deaf Students – A New Step)

Yesterday we had two sessions for the BASLP, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We talked to them about the course content, the uniqueness of this course because it equips them to deal with hearing and speech disabilities, the job prospects and the difficulties associated with being an audiologist and speech therapist. A few video clips were shown about therapy sessions and testing. We answered their questions.

I gave an introductory talk and a concluding remark. I emphasized the fact that we are looking for people who have an interest in service, and have a commitment to associating with people having disabilities. Patience and ability to communicate are important when dealing with difficult customers. This is a new field (the first course in India was started in 1966) and hence a lot of research is going on and new information is still emerging. Only a person who is interested in keeping himself up-to-date with new developments In the field can practice new diagnostic methods  and therapy strategies. High marks in the exam will simply not count when practicing as a clinician. I told them to do things: listen with an open mind, ask questions and then ask themselves, “Am I ready for this?”

NISH is planning to conduct such orientation-cum- open-house sessions for all the courses (may be do it as an interactive webinar for those couldn’t physically come to NISH) so that only students who have an interest will apply for admission.

 

We hope we can change the way people think about education and acquiring knowledge and seeking jobs so that people will have more satisfied lives. After all, earning a living is not life itself! There has to be more to a job than seeking a position or having a title! It has to be contribution to the society as well as personal satisfaction!

Young Minds energize me!

Posting on 9th May. Blog by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, Executive Director, NISH

Today our students organized their annual farewell for the departing seniors. For some, the classes were ending today and for others it will be over in June. Traditionally they used to have separate farewell for ASLP students and the Degree (HI) students. But for the last couple of years, they have it together. Today was a very busy day with visitors, a review meeting, and an inspection by RCI. When I told this to the students, they agreed to do it with in one and half hour time in the afternoon. I didn’t know the details. But I was very pleasantly surprised when they did the whole event so beautifully.

They took time to decorate the venue as usual. For each of the senior class, their juniors displayed on the screen a collage of the memorable pictures – some with funny faces and poses but all showing how enjoyable their time on campus was. They had each of the class coordinator say a few words and in between each of those, they had a short group game or entertainment piece involving one each from each class (hearing and deaf together).  The games were such that there was no need to speak or interpret but all could do it together. The students themselves organized and distributed the snacks in between. The sign language announcement was simultaneously done by a deaf student standing alongside the hearing. It all went like clockwork. Everything was over in less than 90 minutes. I was so glad to see how the whole student body could work together so smoothly. I am so pleased that they understood the spirit and made it a really meaningful, memorable event. Their natural youthful vigor, the energy, the innovative thinking, the openness, the ability to make things happen – it was so evident and such a joy to watch. I always tell my colleagues, if we challenge the students they will rise up to it and do it. No doubts. They did it one more time today. Through the generations youth have done it and in every generation they will do it. To feel young and energetic, there is no better place to be than  a college campus. When I look into their eyes, I see the future.  They have that ‘can do’ attitude and positive energy radiating from each of them. Their youthfulness is so energizing! It is so contagious too. Thank you students!! Being with you every day refreshes me and revitalizes me!

A Small Ripple

Blog dated 5th May, 2015 by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, Executive Director

Yesterday I met 8 teachers from 3 different schools across the state and spent about 90 minutes talking to them. They are from Vocational Higher Secondary Schools for the Deaf. What is so great about it? This was the first session of a one month in-service, on-the-job training that we have started for Vocational Higher Secondary Teachers of the Deaf. They are going to be with us observing the Degree (HI) classes, interacting with faculty, listening to lectures and participating in discussions.

 

What is so special about it? This is the first time that the teachers from the deaf schools in the state are exposed to our classrooms and our way of teaching the deaf students. When the Director, VHSE asked us if we would be willing to provide training for the teachers from the deaf schools, we welcomed it whole heartedly.

Why are we excited? Because students who come to join our degree programs come from these schools. We are very much aware that the students who apply to our degree programs are not ready to study for a degree. They didn’t get early intervention in their early childhood years and the school education didn’t train them appropriately. The deficiencies are glaring. Two years back we had to change our curriculum to incorporate a preparatory year because we realized that the incoming students lack basic language and math skills. We always wished if we are able to turn around this situation and the schools are able to prepare them for a degree program by the time they exit the schools with their 12th grade certificate, the students will be able to go through the degree program much more smoothly. Their chances of success will be better. We are so glad that VHSE dept. has taken this step to get the teachers trained so that they can go back and get their students ready, at least to some extent, for higher education.

It is no secret that deaf students from schools across India have a similar situation. They are taught mostly by teachers who talk to them and the students don’t get it. The grade mark sheets don’t reflect the true condition of the students. This has to change. The students are as intelligent as any other kid in a regular classroom. It is the pedagogy and the channels of communication that has to be adapted so that the students get the knowledge. Our teachers experiment and discuss and tweak our class room methods on a continuous basis and that shows in the progress made by our students. We are more than willing to share our knowledge with others so that the students benefit.

Our goal is to be a positive influence on all the schools in the state and then extent it further across the country. I dream of a day when all deaf students will get a quality early intervention and inclusive education. I believe this session is the small ripple that will resonate all across the nation!

The Danger of the Limelight!

Entry Date: 4 May, 2015. Written by Dr. Samuel N. Mathew, Executive Director

NISH has been given a spot in the limelight with the announcement in the Annual Financial Budget of Government of India. Being a Central University is taking us much beyond our plans for being a State University. Our original goal of transforming NISH as a University was to free ourselves from the shackles of being a college under a traditional University. Disability and Rehabilitation has not taken a front seat in any of the Universities in India. Introducing a new course, doing things innovatively were challenges for NISH. The committees and the decision making bodies in the University didn’t understand the purpose or the focus. It was always hurdles. We wanted to have that independent status so that we can do things creatively, changing with the times and the needs of the target population. We always emphasized that more than anything else, the ‘kid’ is our focus. The customer who comes through our doors is the reason for our existence. The student is the target of our attention.

However as we are becoming a University, people have started talking about the University status, enhanced funds, big campus, huge buildings, and advanced facilities. People have started approaching us for jobs with the hope of fat pay checks and elevated status. People look at us as smart, having earned a good name for the good work. That is a far cry from being called by some in the past as an "just another institution for the deaf and dumb". Sure, we earned our spot. It was hard work and team work all the way! A result of dedicated work for 18 years!

However, I am worried now. Having all this attention will tend to make us wander away from our focus. There is a chance that it may take away the core aim of our existence: The ‘kid’, the ‘student’, the ‘customer’. Anytime, if it is about us and our jobs and our salaries, we have deviated from our aim. So my job is to keep myself focused and also my colleagues focused. To shy away from the limelight so that we don’t get too much attention. I have a feeling it will make us forget who we are and why we are here. We need to stay grounded.

The population we serve have a long history of neglect, marginalization, abuse in the society. They were not given the skills or the education they deserved. They were passed up for opportunities. They were considered as inconvenience. They were treated as incompetent. We have a long road ahead. Our aim is to get them up, empower them, give them education and equal opportunity – in short a seat at the Social Table where we all have a place. Our attention needs to be the student who has a dream to be live a full life, a life where he can earn good wages, be a productive citizen. We want to provide the best quality education. We want to give the best intervention, the best therapy, the best rehabilitation. The buildings, the facilities, the funding are all tools. It will be a great challenge to keep it all in perspective. But we have to do that and continue to check if we are straying away! It is not only now and in our watch, that is going to be a continuous process through the coming generations too!

Orientation Program for the Deaf Students – A New Step

We have been running our degree program for deaf students from 2008. The first batch of graduates came out in 2011. Since then three more batches have come out. From 2011, we have been tweaking our programs in various ways to improve its effectiveness for our students who have special challenges in communication.

Mentoring, peer tutoring, getting help from volunteers to tutor one-on-one, smaller class size, horse-shoe class configuration, teaching ISL to students and teachers, using ISL in class, using Smart Board and connectivity to internet, using games, projects and quizzes to teach are some of the strategies employed by the faculty in the classroom. We are still learning. After 2014 admissions, all of the faculty and staff in Degree (HI) program had a brainstorming session and decided that we need to address some of the fundamental issues when admitting students to our program. We decided to bring the prospective students and their parents together for a day at NISH in early 2015. The purpose was to give them an orientation about the entrance test, give them a sample test and allow the parents to understand the educational level of their wards, explain to them some details of our degree program etc.

As soon as the Class 12 examinations in Kerala were over in March 2015, we gave a press release about the orientation program and encouraged all prospective students to register online. About 100 students registered. Since we couldn’t handle the crowd of 100 students and their parents in one meeting, we divided them into three groups and called them on April 11, 16 and 17. This was not an admission process, and so we called this exercise as a “Orientation program for the Prospective Students”.

Our goal was to help the parents to be realistic about their child’s present status. In the past, again and again I have heard parents who come and tell us how smart their students are and what fantastic percentage of marks they scored at the examinations. From our experience we know that almost 100% of the deaf students who come with the 12th grade certificate are way below in their language and math skills. Often there are students who read at the first or second grade level. The parents need to be enlightened to this situation. The marks don’t reflect the students’ level and we have stopped considering the marks for admission. We want the parents to take an informed decision about the future of their children rather than go after a mirage. Also we wanted to sensitize the students about the entrance examination. They are used to writing examination where they have learned portions by heart and try to reproduce them on the examination paper. Well, we want to test their knowledge and ability to reason and think and answer questions. With these aims in mind, we planned a day of activities for the attendees.

The agenda for the day started with an introduction by Ms. Raji Gopal who coordinated the event and an address by me, the Executive Director. This was followed by short sessions for sharing of experiences by two parents of deaf children, two students who are in senior classes, psychologist, teachers in the degree program etc. There was ample time to answer questions and clarify doubts. I had to connect over Skype to talk to the audience since I was away in the US during this period. I didn’t want to delay these sessions for my physical presence because that would have delayed our admission process.

We talked openly about the realities. We confronted issues of language deficiency, lack of thinking process, behavioral issues, motivational issues, and lack of parent involvement. We encouraged the parents to communicate with their children and understand them realistically. At the end of each session, the teachers came back saying that the parents were glad that we conducted this session. They know their children better now. We are glad. We are going to observe how our admission process is going to turn out after these orientation sessions.

As I write this, our third session is over. We are happy that we did it. The team who put this together did an outstanding job in rolling out this event. Thank you very much, team! The team involved were Ms. Raji Gopal, Ms. Raji NR, Ms. Chithra Prasad, and Mr. Prasanth RL. The success of this exercise is solely due to their dedication and innovative approach to deaf education. Ms. Jeyalekshmi, was a resource person who spoke to the audience as a parent of a deaf child in all three sessions.

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