Japanese school enlists Perkins to help transform deafblind education across country

Yokohama Christian School for the Blind has been working with Perkins International as part of a research project around deafblind education

A teacher works with a young student while a group of visiting educators from Japan look on.

This past March, educators from Yokohama visited Perkins for a week of classroom observation.

August 5, 2019

Last month, a pair of Perkins International (PI) consultants flew to the other side of the world, arriving south of Tokyo, Japan for a week of consultation work at Yokohama Christian School for the Blind. 

While there, they helped educators at the small private school develop appropriate rituals for greeting deafblind students, supported the implementation of educational routines and shared their expertise around reducing self-harm and other challenging behaviors. 

The session, though, wasn’t a one-off. Rather, it represented the culmination of a three-year partnership. In fact, PI, the global training, advocacy and sustainability arm of Perkins School for the Blind, has since supported the Yokohama School as it leads a government-sponsored research project around best practices in deafblind education for release across the island nation.

“Being a very small school like we are, we needed more resources, more expertise and more information to produce something helpful for our entire country,” said Yokohama principal Megue Nakazawa. “That’s why we reached out to PI for help.”

In turn, PI has visited the school three times since their collaboration began, providing training sessions and supporting and monitoring progress of a number of individual students. Nakazawa and her staff have come to Perkins, too. This past March, they made the trip for a week of observation, during which time they visited the Infant-Toddler Program, Early Learning Center, Deafblind Program and Horticulture Center

Nakazawa said the results of these training and observational sessions have already been transformational for Yokohama.

After the first training session, for instance, the school adopted the hand-under-hand approach for instructing students with dual vision and hearing loss. The technique involves a student resting a hand atop a teacher’s, who provides light guidance toward tactile materials. Befitting the school’s focus on improving physical interactions, the technique is often ideal for working with deafblind children as it empowers students to lead the lesson, or pull away if uncomfortable. 

“We’re more conscious now of all our physical interactions,” said Nakazawa. “Simple communication has become more complex conversation. We learned that from Perkins.”

The research project itself was proposed by the Ministry of Education, which is also its funding sponsor. Nakazawa said the idea arose as the Ministry recognized a fast-growing number of students with multiple disabilities were being enrolled in school, only to enter classrooms without properly trained staff. Yokohama has been tasked with curating and learning best practices for nationwide release. And though the school has just 34 students, Yokohama is also uniquely positioned to spearhead the effort.

In Japan, deafblindness isn’t currently recognized as its own disability on a governmental level. Consequently, public schools – including those for the blind – don’t have much deafblind expertise, while special educators aren’t trained to work with deafblind students, according to Nakazawa. Furthermore, in public schools, teachers move from school to school every few years by law, making it harder to accumulate experience working with students with low incidence disabilities. 

Being a private school, Yokohama is untethered by those regulations and that freedom has enabled it to retain staff and develop a sharp focus specifically on children with multiple disabilities. As a result, Yokohama is already a leader in deafblindness education, which, in effect, is why the Ministry tapped the school to lead the research initiative. 

“They’re quite an advanced school,” added Debbie Gleason, PI’s Director for Asia and the Pacific Region. “They were thoughtfully chosen as a partner because they’re really committed to developing a model for all of Japan.”

Now, three years after the whole project was set in motion, it’s coming to a close, the last formal collaboration with Perkins taking place in July. Yokohama will deliver its findings to the Ministry of Education this upcoming February, ultimately for dissemination throughout the country. And while Nakzawa knows much work will still remain even when the project wraps, she’s hopeful this is the start of something significant. 

“Working alone, within our own school, has been very limiting,” she said. “Perkins has given us expertise that will be helpful going forward, for every deafblind child in the country.”