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Hearing amplification heading to Nunavut schools

Prize winners - The Better Hearing for Eduction in Northern Youth (BHENY) initiative won $300,000 through the Arctic Inspiration Prize. BHENY is working to put sound amplification systems in 14 schools in the Quikiqtani (Baffin) region of Nunavut to help students with hearing loss hear their teachers better. From left: Trevor Lee, Lynne McCurdy and Ben McCarl.  submitted photo

Hearing amplification heading to Nunavut schools

by Jaime Myslik

GUELPH - New hearing opportunities are being offered to elementary school students in the Quikiqtani (Baffin) region of Nunavut.

The Better Hearing for Education for Northern Youth (BHENY) initiative was spearheaded by a group of 12 people, eight of whom are based in Nunavut and four whom are based in Ontario.

The group recently won $300,000 from the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Team leader Lynne McCurdy, an audiologist with Wellington Hearing Care in Guelph, explained BHENY became a possibility when the Aboriginal affairs committee for the Rotary Club of Guelph started looking for ways to address hearing loss in Aboriginal communities.

About a year ago she connected with Kim Hurley, the only audiologist in Nunavut and learned about a plan Hurley and Sandra Roberts, a student support consultant in Pond Inlet, had to implement sound amplification systems in schools to support student learning.

“They’re just so remote, they have limited access to services, a huge number of (people with) hearing loss so it just looked like the right place that we could probably have the greatest impact, so that’s how we started in the Arctic,” McCurdy said.

The BHENY initiative allowed the plan to be put into action. The initiative will put sound field systems in 14 elementary schools in the Quikiqtani School Operation for kindergarten to Grade 5 classes - and maybe the entire school.

Teachers will wear a microphone connected to amplification speakers in the classroom so students can easily hear the lesson. The team will also set up the infrastructure to train teachers and maintain the technology.

“Some of the communications between them it’s so remote that this would be a project that would allow us to provide sustainable support,” McCurdy said. “So train the teachers, work with them, set up community networks so parents know how to help the kids, it’s not just throwing these amplification devices into a classroom, it’s all the supports around it to make it sustainable.”

The teachers will be connected to the Virtual Resource Centre through York University, she explained. It will allow all the teachers using sound amplification technology to communicate and continuously receive training.

A key factor in making it possible to quickly implement the sound field systems was the Arctic Inspiration Prize.  

BHENY submitted an application that was more than 80 pages long, detailing the program and its infrastructure plans, and on Jan. 27 the team received a $300,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize.

“The project was going to proceed anyway, but it sure would have taken a lot longer and maybe not looked quite as comprehensive. But in having had the Arctic Inspiration Prize and having their financial support like this means that we can kind of jump start,” McCurdy said. “We were all very excited.”

The prize website states the funds are dedicated to, “teams in the gathering of Arctic knowledge and their plans to implement this knowledge to real world applications for the benefit of the Canadian Arctic, Arctic peoples and therefore Canada as a whole.”

The Quikiqtani population speaks both English and Inuktitut so in helping students hear better in school, the sound field systems are also helping preserve and build Inuit culture and language.

The team has already implemented a few systems in Pond Inlet schools, but this spring they will likely implement the program in schools in Pond Inlet and in Pangnirtung.

At that time team members will also evaluate how well the amplification system works. For example, they may have children point to pictures that match what the teacher is saying with the sound field system on and again with it off and measure the difference in success rates.

In Nunavut it is acknowledged that hearing loss is an issue. Infants are not tested at birth for hearing abilities and with the cold, dry temperatures ear infections are prevalent. With repeat ear infections the eardrum can burst and not heal, resulting in higher incidents of hearing loss, which is what BHENY is addressing, McCurdy explained.

“It’s just a known issue that’s ... not talked about because no one knows what to do, but hearing loss is huge and now we can address this and hopefully see improvements in academic performance and graduation rates even,” McCurdy said. “It’s not hard to draw that line ... between poor hearing and low academic performance.”

Eventually McCurdy said officials hope the department of education in the region will assist with the program.


February 12, 2016


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