Early screening of children for hearing loss is being embraced by Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Kay McConney.
Addressing the launch of the Ellen Steinbok Hearing Project at her Ministry’s headquarters at the Elsie Payne Complex, she said: “We cannot underscore the importance of screening our children early for hearing loss and other challenges that can affect their learning experience.
“The importance is not simply knowing that hearing loss exists; it’s getting a proper diagnosis and then allowing us to intervene and to provide the support, provide the aids and also to give them the skills that will help them to navigate not just learning, but life in general.”
Minister McConney pointed out that when a child is unable to understand sounds and words around him, this plays with his confidence; interrupts his education and his outcomes may not be as “good as they can be”.
Adding that a quality education was also about the outcomes and not just the instruction, she noted the country had a very good health care system, where at polyclinics and other facilities, children could have their hearing and sight tested, among other things.
However, she lamented that some children infrequently visited these facilities. “Many visit a health care provider when they are babies, a young toddler or they have to get their immunisations to get into schools, but for many and far too many, regular access to health care services to have their hearing or sight tested, the access is there but they do not necessarily attend,” she said, noting that the screening project launched today was critical.
The Education Minister, recounting that in 1997 there was a National Survey on Speech and Hearing – Difficulties in Primary School Children, aged five to 11, said it revealed that approximately 5.27 per cent of children were found to have hearing difficulties and 24 per cent had speech difficulties. And, she noted that after the detailed assessment, many children were found to have “significant hearing loss that was impacting both”.
The Ellen Steinbok Hearing Project, which focuses on students in Infants B, started on Wednesday, March 2, at the West Terrace Primary School, and will continue until all schools across the island are completed.
Ms. McConney, commending the partners – Rotary Club of Barbados West, the Barbados Speech and Hearing Centre, the Barbados Community College, Scotia Bank and the Steinbok family – pleaded with parents to give permission for their children to be screened.
Assuring them that the process was non-invasive, she said: “I hope parents will take up the request we have given to give permission for your students to get tested…. It is not invasive; it is safe; it is sanitary; it does not take long and there is no preparation required. We ask you only that you step up and give your child a chance to be assessed and to be supported in a better life and a better learning experience.”
Meanwhile President of Rotary Club of Barbados West, Rene Butcher, speaking about the origin project said at their installation ceremony in June/July 2021, they had made a promise to Barbados to screen six to seven year olds.
Noting that over the next few months they will visit every school in the island, he said: “So far, from the 45 tests we have completed to date; we have identified two students who require further interventions. We expect to uncover quite a few more.”
While pointing out that research showed those students who suffer from hearing loss were more likely to come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, Mr. Butcher said as a result they were less likely to be able to pay for testing and treatment.
To this end, he said the Rotary Club of Barbados West stood committed to meeting the cost of treatment, “where necessary for every child we uncover”. And, while he thanked Scotia Bank and the Steinbok family for their financial support, he urged corporate Barbados to come on board as well.