As far back as 1863, a deaf Charteris Bay child was being taught by sign language.
On 10th March 1880 – under the guidance of Gerrit van Asch (pictured) – New Zealand’s first government funded school for the deaf opened in Sumner, Christchurch. This was also New Zealand’s first institution that used the oral teaching method rather than sign language. This, in turn, encouraged pupils to not only learn to lip read but also form words of their own. In fact, sign language wasn’t allowed to be used until the late 1970’s.
First known as the ‘Sumner Deaf and Dumb Institution’, the school went through a few name changes, finally becoming known as the ‘Van Asch Deaf Education Centre’ in 1995.
Within its first few decades, the school had reached out into the community, offering support to the households of their students as well as helped mainstream schools countrywide learn to cope with their hard of hearing pupils. The school also hired deaf staff members and in 1997, the first deaf teacher stood in front of a class!
Van Asch – from pre-school to secondary students, day pupils to boarders – the school has witnessed decades of progress for New Zealand’s deaf community. A change of law in 1904 saw to it that every deaf child was to be enrolled in school. The 1930’s saw the introduction of hearing aids, the 1940’s saw their teachers being trained at the Christchurch Teacher’s College, and the 1990’s saw in the election of a deaf Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
*Image courtesy of Te Ara – http://www.teara.govt.nz*