The coronavirus outbreak changed the habits of millions of students in Turkey and the world. With schools switching to distance education and amending the rules for in-person education, schools and students tried to adapt to these changes. For hearing impaired and visually-impaired students, it is altogether an extra challenge. Not surprisingly, they welcomed a return to in-person education earlier this month.
Going to school is a blessing for students confined to home amid the pandemic. Certainly, masks and having to wait outside the school to have their temperature checked every day are stifling in this new normal. Nevertheless, they hope that in-person education will prevail in the end.
For now, they attend school in classrooms with up to five people at a time and in limited hours, as a measure against potential infections. Cengiz Polat, principal of Kemal Yurtbilir Middle School for the Hearing Impaired in the capital Ankara, said 94 from among 100 students have attended the school since reopening on March 2 and that they took every measure possible, from ensuring all students wear masks to hygiene and social distancing. Polat told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Tuesday that the education is the same as before but masks, and a new staple of pandemic-hit daily life, sometimes become problematic. He noted that teachers had to find ways to boost participation in classes as masks covering their mouths hindered communication.
Mehmet Ertuğrul, a physical education teacher at the school, says they decided to repeat the same class a few times more for students and largely relied on sign language, to overcome the challenge the masks posed. “Some students can read lips while others have no hearing at all. It is difficult for both them and us and we hope masks will soon be gone,” he said. “We need transparent masks,” Melek Köse, one of the students, suggested.
At Mithat Enç Middle School for the Visually Impaired in Ankara, hygiene is the main challenge. Unlike others, visually impaired students have to rely on their hands more than anything else in their daily life. The school’s principal Hasan Altın said they have managed to solve this problem to an extent by regularly sanitizing the school and students are cooperating by keeping their masks on all the time. But social distancing remains an issue for the students who cannot see. Bekir Boztaş, a teacher who is himself visually impaired, said they always keep clean learning materials that are passed around among students and closely monitor students for hand hygiene.
Yiğit Alp Yönden, a student at the school, says he loved in-person education more than the remote version. “This is how I can meet my friends only,” he says. The young student said he tries to follow the rules to combat the outbreak. “I don’t go near my friends as much and we try not to touch each other. But sometimes, I have to accompany my friends and hold their hands. It is difficult to keep a distance. At those times, I turn my face further from my friend and go wash my hands as soon as I leave (his/her) hand,” he said.