The Victorian College for the Deaf is Australia’s oldest school for deaf. It was established in 1860 by Mr Frederic John Rose.
Mr F.J. Rose, become deaf at six from scarlet fever, came from England where he had been educated in Old Kent Road School for the Deaf in London, and thus was able to teach deaf children.
Originally named "Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institution", the "Dumb" was dropped from the school’s name in 1949 Significantly, it was the first institution of its kind in the world to do so. From then onwards the school was the Victorian School for Deaf Children ; then in 1995 that name was changed to Victorian College for the Deaf.
Now, around seventy deaf and hearing impaired students from throughout the Victoria attend this school, which provides programs from pre-school to Year 12.
The college is committed to a bilingual philosophy of teaching through Auslan and English as a second language.Its aim is the development of intellectual, academic and social learning to foster independence and individuality in the deaf students. This is achieved through the framework of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) which allows teachers to mark out and check the progress of their students.
The college values learning, respect and relationships with an innovative and challenging curriculum, so that the students acquire the skills and knowledge to achieve their personal best. To do so, they benefit from a highly supportive environment and specialized staff.
The Victorian College for the Deaf is a public school with the same curriculum than mainstream establishments. The enrolment fees are consequently low : 150 AU$ / year for primary school and 200 AU$ / year for secondary studies. Parents encountering severe financial difficulties can even be exempted of any fees.
The only requirement demanded of students is to have more than 40 dB of hearing loss in both ears. There is no obligation to wear any hearing device – whether the students have hearing aids, cochlear implant or nothing, it doesn’t matter. Teachers simply adapt themselves to the language and speech level of each student.
Indeed, the first language spoken in the college is Auslan, English being only the second language. Auslan level can vary from teacher to teacher, but all of them know the basics and a few of them works towards fluency. The ancillary staff is fluent in both, and Auslan’s development has priority over speaking correct English. This choice of communication comes from the school’s will to make its students fully part of the deaf community before starting their integration process in the hearing world.
The decision to speak English is made by agreement between the speech therapists, the teachers, the parents and the student, but is not mandatory. However, students must learn English reading and writing skills and master them when they leave the school.
The teachers practice both languages during courses, and the students choose the way they answer to the teacher : Auslan, spoken English or « aural communication », i.e both. When speaking to each other, students use preferably Auslan or aural communication, more rarely spoken English only.
Thus, the global level of hearing-impaired students isn’t the same than their hearing peers’ one in all programs, because of the priority given to Auslan. As more time is needed to learn a foreign language than your native one, deaf students have some delay in reading and writing English. And the teachers’ requirements in English are consequently not as high as in the corresponding Years of mainstream schools.
To remedy that, students access transition programs on three occasions : when they arrive at the Victorian College, when they move from Primary to Secondary levels and when they are preparing to leave school, what they do via a transition pathway.
De facto, the students wanting to go to tertiary education must pass the same tests than all Year 12 Victorian students to be admitted either in university or in TAFE. Thus they need to master the same curriculum than mainstream schools’ one. Some manage it in two years (Year 11 and 12) than mainstream students, some need three years to achieve the same level. In this last case, the Victorian College supports them equally well in this transition until they reach the state requirements.
The number of students wearing cochlear implants has grown bigger every year for the last decade. The Victorian College accepts this device as well as hearing aids, but doesn’t argue in favour of it. The staff doesn’t give any particular information about cochlear implant but directs families who ask about it towards official or medical sources. At the Victorian College reception desk, you can also consult and even buy a book of personals testimonies about cochlear implant.
There is currently eighteen deaf students in primary school, and fifty in secondary school with a maximum of six students by classroom. They are supervised by twenty-four teachers for the deaf (some working part-time), among whom three are deaf and two hearing-impaired. There is also one Auslan interpreter and two deaf educational assistants to support them.
The college has also handy professional support services as audiology, speech therapy, physiotherapy, welfare, and counselling available for parents and students if needed.
The Speech and Language pathology department particularly is highly interesting as it aims to optimise the communication and learning opportunities for all students, regardless of their chosen method of communication, whereas speech therapists often focuses their efforts on the improvement of deaf children’s speech skills only.
This department offers support to the students, and to their parents and teachers too in six fields :
– Receptive & Expressive Language – both Auslan and spoken English
– Written language
– Articulation (Speech)
– Pragmatics (Social) Skills
– Phonological (Sound) Awareness
For further information about these programs, see the Victorian College website page : Speech and Language
The college has also created a café run by students as part of the VCAL Personal Development program. It is supported by the VET Hospitality classes and the Productive garden program, and seems to be a great initiative to allow deaf students to have a first work experience and to acquire some independence in that field.
The Tradeblock Café is fully operational now and you can enjoy a latte or an espresso there during your visit at Victorian College for Deaf (they do a good chai latte and always have nice cakes on offer). Staff and students themselves enjoy lunches there every Monday and Tuesday, and the café is also open for breakfast before classes start.
To conclude, the Victorian College for the Deaf promotes an original education for deaf children, very respectful of their identity and need of integration in the deaf community which comes first before the integration in the hearing world. It’s highly comforting for the deaf families who want their children to become part of their world and master Auslan without discrediting it in relation to spoken English.
But this strength is also the school’s main weakness as its students may not end up with spoken, written and reading English skills as good as these of deaf students who chose integration in mainstream schools. Thus, they may be penalized when they arrive to the state tests for admittance in university or TAFE, and not being accustomed to the hearing world, they may not feel at ease in tertiary education or work environment.
But knowing that integration in mainstream schools and speaking English fluently is often a really hard challenge as well for deaf children and their parents, as it involves an additional load of work and strength… settling the question is everything but easy. It has always been and will always be parents and children’s personal choice. Let’s just congratulate the Victorian College for giving them the possibility to make this choice, by offering a high quality education in Auslan to all those who search for it.
For further information :
Victorian College for the Deaf
597 St Kilda Road
Melbourne VIC 3004
Website : http://www.vcd.vic.edu.au/