Face masks have made it harder for deaf children to understand their teachers in the classroom, so a Gozo NGO is installing systems that amplify the teacher’s voice across the whole classroom.
The sound system is not expensive and is portable, meaning it can be moved from one classroom to another, and also benefits students with normal hearing, especially if they are soft-spoken, or are sitting at the back of the classroom.
Face masks have made life more challenging for deaf people the world over. In the UK, where one in four children were being taught by staff wearing masks, charities had warned deaf pupils will suffer academically.
More recently, Hong Kong researchers came up with a new transparent face mask, which they say allows those with hearing impairment to see people’s lips move when they speak.
Locally, the Gozo Association for the Deaf (GAD) is promoting the use of the Soundfield system, which adapts to the classroom’s acoustics and background noise, eliminating all interfering noise that make it harder for children to understand the teacher.
Wearing a mask adds another layer to challenges already faced by deaf students, such as the room’s acoustics, background noise and distance from the speaker.
An NGO spokesperson said some classrooms, especially those with windows overlooking busy streets, could be very noisy, while students’ fumbling with their chairs and stationery made the teacher’s voice inaudible for their deaf peers. Being unable to understand their teacher made learning very stressful for some students.
The system installed by GAD consists of a loudspeaker with an array of 12 high-quality speakers which can be paired to a touchscreen microphone worn by the teacher, and a pass-around microphone for students.
A multi-media hub can also be paired with the teacher’s microphone and connected to an interactive whiteboard, computer or other media devices.
Three schools in Gozo will be participating in the one-year €3,000 project ‘Listen… Learn… Achieve’, funded by the Small Initiative Support Scheme.
However, the NGO will be sharing the equipment with other schools once the project term is up, hoping to encourage others to adopt the system.
The spokesperson noted that while there are only four deaf or hard of hearing students in the schools participating in the project, all students benefited from the sound system.
The spokesperson said the general feedback so far has been extremely positive: teachers are very happy as they do not need to strain their voice and all students can hear the teacher clearly no matter where they are seated.
Contributions by soft-spoken students are also heard clearly by all, while a student sitting at the back of a classroom said he is paying more attention to the teacher as he could understand everything she says.
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