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Travel Story by Derek Rodger

  Working in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Teachers at Rohana School for the Deaf

Derek, along with a BSL interpreter and a former work colleague went off in February for an unforgettable trip to Rohana School for the Deaf in Matara, Sri Lanka.

Early in 2006, following a visit to Sri Lanka by our head teacher at Oak Lodge School for the Deaf in London, we set up a link with Rohana School for the Deaf. This school is in Matara and has 140 deaf pupils, some of whom have additional learning needs. There are no training courses in Sri Lanka to train teachers of the deaf, and special needs education receives very little support from the government. The teachers in Rohana were not sure how to teach deaf children, the classrooms were dull and uninteresting, with cracked and peeling blackboards, the children sat in rows unable to see each other to communicate, and lessons consisted of copying pages and pages from text books!

The Rohana School headteacher asked Oak Lodge for help and advice. At Oak Lodge we use BSL and English; in Rohana the children are taught in Sri Lankan Sign Language and Sinhala. A former work colleague visited in 2006 and 2007, showing the teachers a film of how we teach at Oak Lodge and giving them ideas of teaching methods. Workshops were organised, inviting all the teachers to attend.


Teaching language to Deaf children
Active Teaching, Active Learning
The Visual Environment

They were very happy and thanked our school for all the support; there have been big improvements in the quality of teaching and learning. The classrooms all have white boards and the teachers write the learning aims for every lesson and the children sit so they can see each other. There are lots of attractive wall displays and the teachers are keen and motivated.

The visit in February was to strengthen our link and continue supporting them developing the quality of teaching and learning. This time I delivered the training, with support from a BSL interpreter and a spoken language translator (Sinhala/English). Working with two interpreters made the communication process slow, and working with a deaf teacher was a new experience for the teachers there.

The most interesting part of the training was getting them to interview the pupils, asking them ‘What is good learning?’ They found it culturally difficult to ask pupils, I stressed the need to have pupils involved in shaping the school policy on learning. They developed a variety of visual questionnaires, and went off happily to interview the pupils. A lot of time was spent helping them to develop modules for the induction system, which included:

What is good learning?
What helps deaf children to learn?
What stops deaf children from learning?
Sign Language
Language and communication

Each of all the teachers had an area of responsibility and the Head teacher watched their presentations about the new systems, which they prepared to a very high standard. The head teacher was very impressed, which made us feel happy and proud. They found it a very emotional event.

It wasn’t all work though! The country is absolutely amazing, the people are very friendly and we were made to feel very welcome. The beaches were beautiful, although the ocean is very rough. There was a tsunami warning whilst we were there. The weather was very hot, which sparked off some huge storms with loud thunder and big flashes of lightning and rain like we had never seen before but the next morning brought lovely blue skies. I tried to embrace the culture as much as possible, learning to eat rice and curry (delicious) like the locals – they use their fingers rather than forks and spoons, which was tricky at first but we soon picked it up!

Derek Rodger
(in collaboration with his work colleagues)

Click on photo to enlarge

Derek  giving a workshop  Beach  Tea pickers at work

Date Submitted: 08 Dec 2008

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