Education ministry takes over ECD centre

20 October 2021 | Opinion

SEM SHINO

After nearly three decades of rendering support services to hearing-impaired children in Namibia, the Association for Children with Language, Speech and Hearing Impairments of Namibia (CLaSH) is closing at the end of this year and handing over its mandate of spearheading the specialised early education of the hearing-impaired to the ministry of education, arts and culture.

Founded in the late 80s as a non-profit welfare organisation by a group of concerned parents of children with communication difficulties and some experts in the field, the association has been offering services such as screening for hearing in children, provision of hearing aids, speech and language development, parents’ guidance and counselling, public awareness, training workshops and seminars and specialised early education.

CLaSH started the first, and still the only, Namibian specialised pre-school unit for deaf children in Windhoek in partnership with the ministry of education as well as the ministry of gender equality and child welfare.

The pre-school unit provides holistic specialist support to deaf children and affords them an opportunity to learn just as easily and as much as any other child. Most children with language, speech and hearing impairments are neglected by their families, particularly in poor rural homesteads, which deny them equal access to health, education and equal opportunities to reach their full potential in life.

Since its inception, more than 150 children have benefitted from specialised early education at the CLaSH unit and the relevance and value of this early intervention has been widely acknowledged and recognised.

Over the years, CLaSH has grown from strength to strength, starting as an enthusiastic self-help group and developing to a well-known, respected and accountable service provider. Moreover, the association has maintained and expanded national and international contacts, explored and pursued new ideas and developed a variety of innovative approaches. Membership to the association has been open to people from all language groups and from all walks of life.

Transferring unit

The association will discontinue direct delivery of educational services this year, and begin to operate as a trust by 2022; it relinquishes its mandate to the ministry of education, which will ably take on the tall order of facilitating specialised early care and development of hearing-impaired learners.

The ministry is proud of this transition, which models inclusivity and increases access to education for children with special needs.

The ministry will incorporate the pre-school unit previously run by CLaSH, which presently accommodates a maximum of 12 children between the ages of three and six, into its system. Considering a secure long-term future for this unique and highly relevant early intervention initiative, the CLaSH board and executive agreed that the most sustainable way forward would be to attach the pre-school unit to the School for the Hearing Impaired at the National Institute for Special Education (NISE) in Windhoek. There it could serve as the model of an early intervention centre that could possibly be duplicated in the regions.

After high-level meetings took place with education ministry leadership and the CLaSH board and executive in 2018, the ministry confirmed support and approval of the transfer of the CLaSH unit.

In this regard, a memorandum of understanding was signed in October 2018 by the chairman of the board of CLaSH and the ministry’s executive director.

Continue to flourish

After a successful fundraising effort by CLaSH, the first two classrooms were inaugurated and handed over to the ministry of education at the end of 2019. Since January 2020, they officially host the NISE early intervention centre for children who are deaf.

CLaSH director Heide Beinhauer said it is her hope that the unique early intervention centre will continue to flourish under the good care of the ministry of education that has been one of the association’s most cooperative partners for the past three decades.

As a trust, CLaSH will help with specific requests benefitting young children with hearing loss and their families. The transition and incorporation of this specialised division into the ministry may not be a walk in the park, but as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

*Sem Shino is the chief public relations officer at the ministry of education, arts and culture.

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