As the world marks World Day of the Deaf, the persistent and often overlooked challenges faced by the deaf community, especially in the realm of education, are coming to the forefront in Morocco with 78% of deaf individuals in the country grapple with illiteracy.
Individuals with hearing disabilities suffer from exclusion, as they always face significant communication obstacles when they want to access various social services, and calls for social inclusion have become important more than ever.
“The problem that deaf students face is related to communication. The majority of schools don’t know about sign language, which is the language used by the deaf to communicate,” saidHassania Dadoune, Head of the Solidarity Association for the Deaf and Mute in Marrakech in a statement to MoroccoLatestNews,.
To alleviate the significant communication barriers that deaf Moroccans encounter and to secure their access to quality education, the government partnered with some schools to offer deaf students some classes within the institution, providing a more inclusive environment to people with hearing disabilities, according to Dadoune.
She underscored that without the tireless work of civil society embodied in the associations that advocate for this cause, deaf students won’t witness the same progress as their peers with hearing abilities do.
The government secures a partial integration for deaf students in normal classes. “They attend classes with regular children for a few hours a week, and then join the community resource hall,” Dadoune explains.
However, the lack of sign language professionals poses a significant challenge for people with hearing disabilities in the classroom and limits their full participation in secondary schooling.
The head of the association emphasized that without the accompany of civil society, deaf students won’t benefit from what students with hearing abilities normally do. This explains the alarming illiteracy rate among those people.
“When deaf students get their primary school certificate, we should look for a companion/ sign language interpreter for our students. There is a lack of professionals in sign language,” Dadoune complains.
This is what Abdelaziz Arssi, a researcher in Deaf studies and university professor at the Faculty of Education in Rabat, also shed light on.
In a statement to MoroccoLatestNews, Arssi said, “The education of the deaf is still backward due to the lack of qualified professionals that are working in deaf education.”
Lack of proper training among educators and service providers hinders their ability to effectively communicate with deaf students, limiting their education progress. As a result, many Deaf Moroccans find their educational journey prematurely terminated at the primary level, explains Arssi.
The Head of the Solidarity Association for the Deaf and Mute in Marrakech insisted on the pivotal role of sign language interpreters in the continuity of deaf students’ education, especially in secondary schools.
Civil society organizations play a pivotal role in facilitating school integration for deaf students, preparing them for vocational training that would enable them to enter the job market.
“It’s the association that takes care of the deaf and facilitates their school integration.” She added, “As a civil society, we prepare them for either school integration or vocational training. After completing two years of vocational training, they obtain a diploma that allows them to access the job market.”
While vocational training programs equip deaf students with the necessary skills and knowledge, the lack of communication opportunities severely hamper their employment prospects and smooth access to the job market.
The Moroccan government offers some facilities to the deaf community, such as providing and financing income-generating workshops so that deaf individuals with licenses can open their own businesses. However, Dadoune lamented, “The process of studying the project is so slow.”
The slow implementation of income-generating workshops by the Moroccan government further exacerbates the situation, leaving many deaf individuals grappling to find employment, said the head of the association.
‘It takes years to study the project by the regional committee as well as the local committee to grant approval and deliver the check to open their own business,” she explained.
The researcher in deaf studies said that Morocco has signed the International Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities to protect deaf individuals’ right to access to education.
“The International Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities acknowledges the fact that sign language should be the language of the deaf,” he added.
The Constitution also emphasizes the right of all Moroccans, including the deaf, to access education without any exclusion or discrimination.
To achieve social inclusion, Arssi called for deaf-friendly classrooms and stressed, “Deaf students should not be put in a setting where they will be victims or subject to stigmatization or discrimination if students in regular classes are not sensitized enough and are not equipped with the necessary knowledge that can provide them with the possibility to live together, or just acknowledge in the classroom.”
The journey towards achieving full inclusive education for the deaf in Morocco is a complex one, especially since sign language is not yet standardized and professionally trained interpreters in the county are scarce, according to the expert in deaf studies.
In 2016, the United Nations Development Program granted 7 million dirhams to the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality, and Family for a project of standardization of Moroccan sign language and training of interpreters.
More than 300,000 individuals in Morocco face hearing disabilities, including 30,000 children aged 5 to 15.
Only 1,000 of them are educated in establishments affiliated with the Ministry of National Education, 3,000 others are taken care of by associations, and the remaining 26,000 do not receive any form of supervised education, according to Allal Amraoui, a surgeon and a member of Independence political party.