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Leading an independent life is becoming a possibility for deaf students, thanks to TEACH

It was while they were volunteering at special schools in Mumbai that Aman Sharma and Deepesh Nair realised the severe lack of educational opportunities and job options for the deaf.

Deaf students in India drop out of higher studies for lack of sign language instruction

It stirred the two of them to take a break from their full-time jobs at a multinational company to take a close look at the infrastructure that was available for deaf students in the financial capital.

"We found that a regular college system was absent for deaf students once they passed out of Class 10", says Sharma.

"Every year about 180 deaf students in Mumbai successfully complete their Class 10 exams but most drop out after that because of the lack of Indian Sign Language instruction. The result was that many are forced to give up their dreams of higher studies and end up working in malls.

This was the trigger for TEACH - Training and Education Centre for Hearing Impaired - started in July 2016 by Sharma and Nair. They eventually formed a team with six friends - Nasrulla Adamji, Sonali Kaveri, Kriti Kumari, Bonny Kuruvilla, Fariya Korlekar and Heena Singh. TEACH aims to ensure that deaf students are not forced to give up their dreams due to lack of further opportunities.

Several challenges in convincing the deaf to go for higher education

There were several challenges, especially in the earlier stage, says Sharma. "Funding is always a challenge. Another was to change the mindset of schools and parents towards higher education and it's scope". With their dedicated programs, the team was able to build trust and from 20 students in the first year, the enrolment rose to 40 in the second.

TEACH trains students for three years after they finish their Class 10 exams.

"In the first year, the focus is on English and Mathematics because most of the children are from vernacular-medium schools" - Aman Sharma

. After this, there are classes for Class XI and XII. At present, there are two full-time teachers in the faculty, who are familiar with ISL.

For Aamir Ali Lulla, 19, a first year student of commerce, TEACH has opened doors that he could not dream of before. It has taken a lot of hard work and patience to reach this sense of self-belief.

"I tried regularly, with a lot of reading and developed a knack for Math and English. With continuous effort and help from teachers, I understand and remember chapters and concepts better now", says Aamir, who hopes to do an MBA in finance.

Mix of soft skills and academics taught here

Apart from English and Math, students at TEACH are also taught soft skills like personality development to build self-confidence, with a eye on the job market.

Going ahead, TEACH has bigger dreams of expanding from Class 12 to graduation, hopefully in two years' time. And if things go well, there will be TEACH centres in other cities as well. A much needed gap, that will open up possibilities to thousands in the deaf community to lead independent lives.

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