This week, I visited two schools for deaf students in Japan. The first, Special Needs Education School for the Deaf, University of Tsukuba, was located in Chiba prefecture; the second, Tokyo Metropolitan Chuo School for the Deaf, was located in Tokyo.
The two schools are very different in operation and purpose. The Special Needs School covers all ages, from infancy (in mother/child programs) to vocational training after the high school level. The Chuo School is junior high and high school only. High school students at both schools are taught with sign language or simultaneous communication, but at the Special Needs School, children are taught in an oral/aural method all the way through junior high. This helped me understand why so many students here at the Tsukuba University of Technology speak – even if they attended a deaf school, they might have been in an oral program. (When I asked how students pick up sign language if they’re in an oral program, it turned out to be exactly how American children picked it up during the years of ASL being banned in classrooms – from older schoolmates, and those who had deaf parents.)
The schools were also different in terms of how they prepare students for the future. The Chuo school prepares all of its students for university study. Some come to the Tsukuba University of Technology, where I am; others go to hearing universities elsewhere in Japan. The Special Needs School, though, has two tracks. One is a college prep track, and the other is a vocational track. Within the vocational program, there are two options – art and dental technician. The dental technician program teaches students to make crowns, retainers, dentures, and other products. It looked fascinating, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the students in the program wanted to be there. How do you tell someone they’re not college-bound? Then again, maybe that isn’t a negative thing the way it is in the US. Maybe the students are perfectly happy to be learning a trade. They were all busy working, so I didn’t have the chance to ask them.
Both of these schools were in suburban environments. The Special Needs School has a dormitory, because they draw students from all over Japan; the Chuo school only has local students. And yet neither of them seemed to be near major entertainment options or even public transportation, so I wonder what the students who live there do for fun?
It was quite interesting to visit both of these schools, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so during my internship in Japan.