Bilingual School for Deaf Children Opens on Site of Closed School [2008/05/14]
Venue of the Mesei Gakuen opening ceremony
Meisei Gakuen in Tokyo is a new private bilingual school for deaf children that teaches sign language as a first language, and reading and writing as a second language. On April 9th, the school held its opening ceremony with some 250 people in attendance. The school was founded by the Bilingual Bicultural Education Center for Deaf Children (BBED), a nonprofit organization that uses donations from individuals and The Nippon Foundation to operate Tatsunoko Gakuen, a free school in Shinagawa Ward. Meisei Gakuen is the first school in Japan that teaches deaf children in sign language.
Meisei Gakuen has rented the former Yashiokita Elementary School building from Shinagawa Ward, renovating part of the facility. A total of 41 students (16 preschool, 25 elementary school), are enrolled.(Photo: Parents waving to children entering the venue)
At the opening ceremony, President Yonaiyama and Principal Saito discussed the importance of schools that teach in sign language. Said President Yonaiyama, “The hardships and efforts of our predecessors in deaf education have borne fruit, much to the delight of children. Today marks the start of a new kind of education.” Principal Saito explained the origins of the school name. “Meisei is expressed in sign language by showing the back of one hand and the palm of the other. The name ‘Meisei’ comes from the deaf concept of enlightenment after an age of darkness.”
In 1933, the Ministry of Education decided to focus on oral deaf education in teaching deaf children. Under this method, children with hearing disabilities simply imitate the shape of their teacher’s mouth. To enforce this way of learning, sign language was barred in many schools for deaf children. (Photo: Children presenting a short play)
Although oral deaf education is still used in many schools for the deaf, Tatsunoko Gakuen was established in 1999 by parents who wanted sign language education. Since the school was free, the BBED asked the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to approve the unique educational curriculum. Shinagawa Ward was thereafter designated a special education zone by the national government, and 45 million yen was raised to organize a private school--Meisei Gakuen.(Photo: Children picking up balloons following the ceremony)
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