The University is working to raise the aspirations of young deaf children through an award-winning project. “Society has low expectations of deaf children,” says Wendy McCracken, the UK’s only Professor for Deaf Education. “The University of Manchester does not.”
For almost 100 years the University has trained teachers of the deaf but now, for the first time, we’re enabling deaf schoolchildren to experience first-hand the discoveries and research that can inspire them to one day study here.
Devised by Wendy and Helen Chilton, a lecturer in deaf education, the Kids on Campus programme is creative and unique. Primary-aged children from the Lancasterian Sensory Support Service in nearby West Didsbury are invited to spend a day as a university student.
A day in the life
Accompanied by a specialist trainee teacher, the children go on an amazing adventure, taking in a trip to Manchester Museum and fascinating mini-lectures. It’s a stand-out example of the University’s commitment to social responsibility in the local community – indeed, it was recognised in the University’s Making a Difference Awards.
Wendy explains: “Kids on Campus shows the children what they can do, that they can go to university if they want to. And it shows our students, and people around the campus, how diverse – and able – these children are.”
The majority of the youngsters on the programme are educated in mainstream classrooms. Here, they experience learning in a new way. As Helen recalls, a talk on geckos by Maxine Byrne – who had undertaken deaf awareness training and wanted the chance to use it – was a huge hit with the young visitors.
There’s also a treasure hunt, lunch in a campus cafe with students and a visit to our library, which, with its four million books, amazed the schoolchildren. “One six-year-old girl asked if she could live there,” says Helen. “We told her no, but that she might work there one day. She was delighted.”
It’s those moments that make the children ‘agents of change’ for the students. Wendy explains: “Children often come to campus as subjects to be researched, but these children are working with us as part of the team.”
Lessons for all
It’s not only the children who benefit. It is a crucial part of the course, increasing the confidence of our student teachers. Stephanie Lee, Head of Student Recruitment (Widening Participation and Outreach), says: “This project enables trainee teachers to communicate with kids in a different environment and improves the way they communicate with young learners.”
Jane Beadman came here to study after her daughter was born profoundly deaf three years ago. She says: “I know from my own experience about people’s expectations of deaf children. We can have a big impact on them and their families.”
Fellow student Sarah Ross was inspired to study here after seeing her own mother’s determination when bringing up her deaf brother Michael. She says: “There are parents who say to me: ‘I know my child isn’t going to achieve much.’
The University’s contribution to understanding deafness goes global with a MOOC in February 2016, focusing on deafness in low- and middle-income countries. www.coursera.org/course/deafness.