Aliya Gulamani: My Education Journey

There’s several papers sprawled on my desk, which to the outsider may look frantically misplaced but to the trained eye actually have a perfect sense of order. There’s a fresh cup of camomile tea brewing, (drinking coffee during the exam period in my first year of University led to terrible jitters and a feeling of constant nausea. So I converted to camomile tea and have never looked back since), pens lying around somewhere, with missing lids of course, books forced open at certain pages with those amazing bookmark post it notes – whoever invented those is a genius who I will buy a drink one day; and at the centre of it all, here I am, frantically typing away on my beloved laptop which at this moment in time is the most precious thing. Yes. It’s deadline week.

I’m nearing the end of the first year of my Masters in Creative Writing. Insofar, my first year has been challenging, difficult but also immensely rewarding. Whilst, yes, in the midst of an impending scary deadline, a part of me (let’s say a five per cent minority) is screaming WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?! – the other ninety-five per cent is grateful to be where I am and to love learning how I do. Even though my education route hasn’t always been easy and there have been hurdles in getting to where I am now, I still have this passion for learning, for knowledge, that spurs me onwards.

Middle School changes

The first hurdle I experienced happened in Middle School. Up to that point I had a positive experience of education (I turned Deaf when I was 3 and from then onwards had both speech therapy and signing classes) wherein my bilingual needs were consistently met. I had a Unit in my Primary School which consistently mentored me and ensured that I had access. In addition to this, I was also encouraged to learn at home. I remember regular trips to the Library every Saturday which manifested within me a deep love for reading, which has stayed with me all my life. However, when I entered Middle School, this began to change.

In Middle School, there were a larger number of in-class lessons, the number of pupils in the class expanded and there was constant information to take in. The methods that had been working for me previously were not as effective now. A radio aid and a helper
croppedweren’t enough to access what the teacher was saying; I needed far more support. This was evidenced by my surprisingly low SATs grades in Year 5.

My difficulties weren’t just limited to my educational needs but also my social needs: as whilst I was a confident and friendly child, I found it difficult to consistently understand my hearing peers and follow conversation threads. This could, of course, be attributed to my physical loss, as my deafness is degenerative, which means that it steadily declines over the years. However, looking back, I feel that there is more to it than this – I was at this time becoming more exposed to the Deaf community and this, along with my increased use of Sign Language, shaped my identity as a Deaf person and from this my needs subsequently changed.

As a consequence of this, my mother began to explore options for secondary education. There were many, but it eventually came down to two – to continue in mainstream education by attending my local secondary school, or to attend Mary Hare School – where my elder Deaf sister currently was. I had visited my sister several times and loved the feel of Mary Hare. I remember seeing her year group comfortable mixing in the common room in Howard House and that, combined with the extensive book area I must confess, swung me in that direction. Thus, it seemed that my first hurdle would be overcome by a thorough examination of my needs and investigation of which institution would be best placed to support me.

Fighting a battle

This was not to be. The Local Education Authority were not, at the time, convinced by my academic decline. They saw no need to relocate me to a specialist school. Instead they were adamant that the local secondary school would be best suited to my needs. Despite several meetings and confrontations – that the option that they were trying to enforce upon me did not match my needs – they would not budge. It was a difficult situation – if I stayed, it was highly likely that I would have to put up with a substandard provision of education, which by now, as I was reaching the end of Middle School, I could clearly foresee – as my struggles in accessing both the social and educational aspects of school were increasing. I could not leave as the LEA would not fund for me to go to the specialist IMG_2846school. After discussion with various educational psychologists and specialists, my mother and I were presented with a third option – home schooling. This was intended to be a temporary set up, where, whilst I would be taught at home with full access, the legal battle for me to go to Mary Hare would continue.

Home schooling was an interesting aspect to my educational journey. I received the National Curriculum and my mother devised a rota based on advice from experts. Whilst, logically for a young child, there is a tendency to rebel, I really, really wanted to go to Mary Hare so I stubbornly stuck to the rota and ensured I completed the lesson plans. This had a positive effect on my future of learning; as from this experience I developed excellent self-studying skills which were a fantastic help to all the revision classes that subsequently followed. The most negative element of this experience was that I missed my peer group. My siblings and friends were in school and though my mother ensured I entered a range of after school activities I felt a persistent gap in my everyday life.

Finally though, after six months of battling with the council, we won. They agreed that I could go to Mary Hare! From then onwards, my experience was essentially positive. Of course, there were minor hiccups that occurs in any educational journey particularly at the sensitive age of puberty, but, aside from the Physics lessons which I could never understand – through no fault of the teacher but from a gene within me that cannot process Physics Laws – I was able to access my classes and functioned as an active and conversational member of my peer group.

University

I studied hard and achieved high GCSE results. My A-Levels were slightly harder as they required a lot more proactivity to ensure good grades but I persisted, and also did well in these. After my A Levels, I was certain that I wanted to go to University but I wasn’t quite sure what to study, where to go and of course, being in a specialist school meant that I had forgotten about techniques to meet my needs in a mainstream environment. Thus, it was from naiveté and panic that I selected my first University; Reading University to read English. Naturally, this didn’t work out – I wasn’t keen on the subject that I had quickly chosen and my needs weren’t matched. I dropped out within a month and did some voluntary work and travelling.

The following September I made another choice. This time I knew the support would be good as this University – Royal Holloway – was based in Surrey and Surrey Deaf Services was reputed as particularly excellent at understanding and providing for Deaf people’s needs. As expected, support wasn’t an issue – I had qualified interpreters, regular note takers and supportive tutors. However, though access to the course was provided, the course itself wasn’t stimulating enough and I didn’t feel that this would be the right place to undertake my degree. So, I completed my first year but decided to look for alternative courses. I initially wanted to stay at Royal AliyaHolloway and study a different course but in the process of researching I came across Goldsmiths College.

I went to check it out further, and learning from my previous mistakes I spoke to the Disability Department in great detail about my needs and how these would be met; and also to the tutors on the course I was interested in (English and Drama). I asked them what exactly the course entailed and what modules, opportunities and responsibilities the course contained. The tutors and support services were incredibly encouraging and gave me a lot of information to enable me to make a decision. So, after looking carefully at my options I made the decision to study English and Drama at Goldsmiths.

This time, I didn’t leave! My educational experience at Goldsmiths was beyond what I expected. Not only was the course really interesting, but Goldsmiths also exposed to me to issues in the wider world – politics, society and sociology – and so my education extended from that of the classroom. I was also much more aware of my needs and ensured that I informed the University of them, which they subsequently fulfilled. On a social level, Goldsmiths was also amazing. I consistently informed my peer group about how to communicate with me; and from this understanding and effort on both sides, I created some lovely friendships, some of which I still dearly treasure today.

That’s not to say my University experience was easy – there were moments when I struggled with some modules, many late nights and the regular anxieties that most University students encounter. But the support I had, along with my own self-motivation, ensured that my University experience was essentially positive.

After I graduated (2.1), I left to go and work abroad in Sri Lanka. In my time there, I decided to come back and do a Masters in Creative Writing. I have always adored writing and have written articles, plays and short stories for years. I decided I would like to develop further as a writer and a Masters in Creative Writing would give me the necessary skills, knowledge and development required to do so. So here I am, working on yet another deadline, comforted by the smell of camomile, still writing, still learning.

Aliya is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing. In 2010 she was accepted to the Royal Court’s prestigious Young Writer’s Programme, after having been a member of Deafinitely Theatre’s ‘Deafinitely Creative’ group for two years. This year one of her scripts has been developed and performed as part of 4Play at the new Park Theatre in London. She is interested in being involved in teaching projects abroad, writing short stories and a possible career in publishing. She likes world cinema, psychology, politics, literature, theatre, running and writing.

Previously published here:

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