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Dingwall Academy deaf base pupils rise to challenges of coronavirus crisis


By Hector MacKenzie

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At the Dingwall KIT (keeping in touch) hub, Morgan Reid with principal deaf teacher Margaret Kinsman.
Picture: Gary Anthony
At the Dingwall KIT (keeping in touch) hub, Morgan Reid with principal deaf teacher Margaret Kinsman. Picture: Gary Anthony

PUPILS at schools across Ross-shire will have mixed feelings about the impending return to classrooms after the unprecedented challenges of working remotely from home during the coronavirus crisis.

The school-issue Chromebook has been a vital tool, with pupils tapping into a digital hub created by Highland Council in a bid to deliver education to thousands of young people working from home.

It was a big ask beset by daunting challenges but there was no choice but to get on with it.

Students attending Dingwall Academy’s acclaimed deaf base had a tougher time than most as staff pulled out all the stops to make the available technology work to best effect while facing additional challenges.

These included the difficulties of lip-reading from a computer screen and issues of eye-strain and headaches because of the intense concentration required.

"I am exceptionally proud of the young, their parents and the staff as everyone pulls together to help them learn and to achieve.” - Margaret Kinsman

Setting aside regular glitches and teething troubles with technology, lockdown was tough for some deaf pupils who struggled to understand what teachers were saying.

The unit’s principal, Margaret Kinsman, said: “Hearing people can look away for a break, but continue to receive the information.

“Deaf cannot – looking away means a loss of information. Sitting huddled over the Chromebook plays havoc with posture but unlike their peers, they need to have it close to see the screen.”

Inside the KIT classroom during the lockdown.
Inside the KIT classroom during the lockdown.

Pupils were able to get occasional access to a learning hub, following strict social distance and hygiene guidelines.

Mrs Kinsman said: “The barriers preventing access to learning are there but with some strong-willed determination, youthful resilience and willingness to engage, bound up with a sense of humour, deaf learners showed they are motivated and keen to learn and achieve.”

Deaf base staff met remotely every week to review the challenges and look at possible solutions to problems as they arose.

Positive feedback from parents – who played a significant role in the education of their children at an anxious time for everyone – provided a boost to staff in challenging times.

They welcomed the accessibility of teachers to answer questions and to help allay fears.

One said: “Mrs Kinsman tells me not to worry and that something will work out and just to continue to support my child. I don’t know how I would cope if I didn’t have the deaf base staff to call upon for help.”

Another said: “My child stopped engaging, was overwhelmed and didn’t want to do anything. But the staff suggested and tried different things to do and she’s getting back to doing work.”

Another admitted: “I am worried about the future. They are angels in disguise! My child now says not to worry as they’ll ask for a Google chat on the computer or send Mrs K a message!”

Pupils themselves admitted that they were missing school and interaction with their peers.

They also acknowledged the value of having direct access to teachers able to help explain things face to face. They also missed chat times using sign language.

One said a key lesson learned was never to give up and “that it’s okay to ask for help”.

Mrs Kinsman said: “There’s a real sense of teamwork. We share the frustrations but then the focus shifts to finding solutions. I am exceptionally proud of the young, their parents and the staff as everyone pulls together to help them learn and to achieve.”

Related: Dingwall woman's final wishes honoured with gift to the deaf

News from Ross-shire


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