The experience of teaching in residential schools for the deaf in Zimbabwe

Musengi, Martin
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The study sought to explore what hearing teachers know and believe about teaching deaf pupils in the three residential schools for the deaf in Zimbabwe. This was done in order to understand the meaning these teachers attach to the experience of teaching deaf learners. The study therefore highlighted how the teachers define deafness, how they perceive deaf children’s ability to learn as well as what and how these pupils should be taught. This was done so as to explore the teachers’ beliefs and convictions which underlie their everyday practice therefore uncovering the meaning they attach to teaching. Specifically, the study addressed the following questions: What is the meaning of teaching for hearing adults who teach deaf children in residential schools for the deaf in Zimbabwe? What do hearing teachers believe about deaf pupils’ ability to learn? What do hearing teachers know about teaching deaf learners in separate residential institutions? How do hearing teachers’ knowledge and beliefs relate to their experience of teaching deaf children? The study was premised on the notion that how the teachers experience teaching also informs and reinforces their beliefs and knowledge which in turn inform the teachers’ experiences. Exploring this reciprocal relationship has the potential to give vital insights into initial specialist teacher-education and continuing professional development in deaf education. A combined qualitative design informed by phenomenology and anthropology was used to collect and analyse data for the study. First, documents that inform teacher-education and other documents regulating education and disability issues in Zimbabwe were collected and analysed, largely in order to determine the context of the experience of teaching deaf pupils. Second, I provided and analysed data on my own experiences as a teacher of deaf pupils in an autoethnography. Recollection of autoethnographic data was chiefly aided by interactive introspection with other teachers of deaf pupils and the reading of critiques that were written by my superiors about my lessons at that time. Third, a focus group of up to six specialist teachers and another of the same number of non-specialist teachers discussed deaf education at each of the three residential schools. Finally, twelve teachers and the principals of the three special schools were individually interviewed. Altogether the study had fifty participants. The study found that many teachers had hearing attitudes towards deafness. These attitudes reflected beliefs about the superiority of hearing and speaking and this informed teachers’ beliefs that deaf children were deficient learners with language and experiential deficits which required remedial, therapeutic and vocational teaching. Zimbabwean Sign Language was also believed to be a deficient system of communication which teachers learned informally from their deaf pupils and which needed to be improved in order for it to become more useful for academic purposes. Challenges in deaf education were largely attributed to the learners’ deficiencies and unreasonable policies in deaf education. Even though specialist and non-specialist teachers tended to have similar perceptions, the non-specialists were more introspective and they more openly acknowledged their personal deficiencies as teachers. The non-specialist teachers also raised more subject-specific challenges of teaching deaf learners. It was concluded that specialist training might be de-sensitising teachers so that they were less aware of the virtues of introspection and the need for imparting academic content, rather than dwelling on perceived deficiencies. From the teachers’ accounts of their experiences, four core narratives were constructed: the heroic, martyr, surrogate parent and handicapped helper. In each type of story the meaning of teaching deaf learners is experienced in an essentially different manner. It is recommended that in order to improve the experience of teaching, it is important to critically reflect on the kinds of stories teachers are living by, and how these stories are sustained in classrooms, schools, teacher-education and in society generally. This study concludes by making other related recommendations which may improve the experience of teaching in the residential schools for the deaf in Zimbabwe. Keywords Deaf education, Zimbabwe, teaching, deficiency, pathological, cultural, normal.
A thesis submitted to the School of Education, Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the conditions for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy July 2014