Yangyel Lhaden

Almost two decades since its establishment, the Wangsel Institute for the Deaf in Paro will have its first cohort for classes 11 and 12 this year. 

The Deaf education, which started as a small unit under Drukgyel Lower Secondary school in 2003, was upgraded to class 12 last year.

Education ministry’s deputy chief programme officer for Special Education Needs, Pema Chhogyel, said Bhutanese Sign language (BSL) was in the developing stage and Deaf education new in the country. “It would be very difficult to have fast or instant progress. Muenselling Institute in Khaling for the blind was established in 1973 and studying into class 11 happened only in 1996 with two students.”

He said the education for students with deafness had to be upgraded progressively to facilitate the learning of the students with deafness whose learning needs and approach differed considerably. 

Pema Chhogyel said they had assessed the future scope, resource and capacity of the school before upgrading.

Wangsel Institute’s principal, Dechen Tshering, said they would manage with existing resources and had identified subject teachers, timetable and allotment of classroom. “With the upgradation, main focus is enhancement of numeracy and literacy to develop entrepreneurship skills and life skills.”

He said every student was taking one TVET course to transit directly to work place or labour market.

Pema Chhogyel said the ministry would explore possibilities in creating access to tertiary education for students with deafness in future. 

However, he said, a college management had agreed to take one or two students with deafness if they could institute some basic services and received required support from education ministry and stakeholders. 

“Pursuing college education for students with deafness would be even challenging due to limited communication, inadequate BSL, interpreter services and facilities,” Pema Chhogyel said.

In 2019, with approval from Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), six assistant instructors – six persons with deafness and four vocational instructors were recruited.

The ministry also look forward to follow up on the proposals to RCSC for interpreters for students with deafness and teacher assistants for inclusive schools. 

The students at Wangsel Institute learn from adapted and modified curriculum from the general curriculum.  Due to limited receptive, expressive and communicative scope with Bhutanese Sign language currently, the teachers need to select and customise the subject contents based on the relevancy and competency of the learners with deafness.

Dechen Tshering said teachers need not avail separate training to teach class 11 and 12 as the level of numeracy and literacy for deaf students was lower than general school.

BSL research and documentation has been a continued process since it was started in 2003.

Pema Chhogyel said, “The research team at Wangsel Institute along with a Sign language expert from Thailand is working on how to develop BSL appropriately with proper grammar, syntax and structure. There are over 3000 signs of BSL developed.  Language development never stops.”

Until comprehensive communicable language was not developed, Pema Chhogyel said, the teachers be it at school or colleges needed to customise their teaching strategy and subject contents for students with deafness. “The students with deafness will face difficulty if all multilingual subjects are taught at each level which is written in complete language.”

He said, “We need strong collaboration and support from relevant agencies for all these successes.” 

At Wangsel Institute, class 11 and 12 students are taught English, Dzongkha, Mathematics, ICT, and technical and vocational subjects.  The students could be facilitated in taking the subjects as streams gradually with establishment of required services and facilities. 

The class 10 and 12 students appear their final examination designed at Wangsel Institute, which are assessed and validated by Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment BCSEA for certification and endorsement of the results.

There are 105 students at the school.  It started with numeracy and literacy with 10 students in 2004.

Meanwhile, with support from Pro Bhutan German association, additional infrastructure is being built in the institute.  A soundproof studio is being built for BSL research and documentation.

Additional six-unit classrooms, hostels, additional rooms for vocational traits are also being built. 

Education ministry also looks forward to strengthening Wangsel Institute as the resource centre for Deaf education services in Bhutan. 

To intervene in the acquisition of interactive language for children with Deafness right from an early age, the Ministry will also explore establishing an early childhood care and development (ECCD) programme at Wangsel Institute.

Pema Chhogyel said this would need immense support, commitment and proper groundwork with the parents, service providers and stakeholders. “There are logistic, administrative, and resource challenges to establish such services.”