Sound teaching system amplifies Nunavik classrooms

“It’s the healthier option”



KANGIQSUJUAQ — Teachers’ voices come through loud and clear in two-thirds of Nunavik’s classrooms, thanks to a sound system now used in most of the region’s schools.

The tiny public address system was first installed 13 years ago at Satuumavik school in Kangiqsualujjuaq, as part of a pilot project.

Teachers there were fitted with a headset that transmits their voice to speakers in the classroom.

Today, about 200 of Nunavik’s 300 classrooms are fitted with the sound field system and educators have noticed the difference.

Marion James, a special education teacher in Kangiqsujuaq, says the system has many benefits in a region where a quarter of all students live with some degree of hearing loss.

“Many students have fluctuating hearing abilities,” James said, which means they are not necessarily identified as having special needs. “The classroom amplifier guarantees that there is always a tool to help them.”

A 1998 study found the highest rates of chronic otitis media (ear
infections) were found in the Inuit populations of Canada, Alaska and Greenland, affecting 12 to 46 per cent of people.

The study found the younger the child, the more prone to infections — and hearing loss — they are.

In Kangirsuk, more than half the daycare children recently screened had middle ear problems.

Of the 100 or so of Nunavik’s kindergarten students tested this year, one-third had ear or hearing problems.

That factors into the crucial first years of introducing a second language, when many Inuktitut-speakers in Nunavik are learning to decode the French or English language.

“[The SF system] definitely improves the acquisition of learning a second language,” James said. “If you’re not able to differentiate between the letters ‘p’ and ‘b’ it’s very difficult.”

Since the amplifiers were installed in Arsaniq school’s elementary classrooms, James has even noticed improvements in behaviour.

James figures this improvement comes from students who would previously act out in frustration from not being able to hear a teachers’ instructions.

When the teachers’ voice is amplified, it doesn’t single out individual students like a hearing aid might, she added.

While children assessed with hearing loss in Nunavik can get subsidized hearing aids, they aren’t used regularly, said Hannah Ayukawa, an audiologist with the Tulattavik hospital’s hearing and otitis program.

And all the efforts invested into hearing tests don’t go nearly as far to help the region’s schoolchildren as the sound field system, Ayukawa said.

“It’s the healthier option,” Ayukawa said. “It helps everyone in the class.”

While the primary classrooms have been fitted with the amplifiers for several years, Ayukawa has just finished installing the SF system in the last of Arsaniq’s secondary level classrooms.

Next, Ayukawa says she would like to gauge which teachers are actually using the system.

In the higher grades, for example, some teachers argue they teach students one-on-one and don’t need to address the entire class.

Ayukawa has already received some feedback on teachers’ experiences using the amplifiers.

One primary teacher said the headset makes her ears stick out, while another said she feels like Madonna on stage.

Others have told Ayukawa they feel like they work at the McDonald’s drive-thru counter.

“It’s hard to predict which teachers will embrace it,” Ayukawa said. “We’re letting teachers decide if they want to use it or not, but I wish the school board had a policy.”

A long-time proponent of the sound field system, James thinks that if teachers understood the science behind it, they’d understand the benefit of regularly wearing the headset.

“You would always insist that a child wear glasses if they needed them,” James said.

Finally, James offers one piece of advice to teachers new to the headset.

“Never wear them to the bathroom,” she laughed, “or you’ll lose all your power in the classroom.”

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