FM systems a cure-all for bad acoustics?

One of the nice things about our campaign for schools that sound good is the positive response it’s got from other organisations and from individual parents and teachers of the deaf. We seem to have struck a chord and that lots of people feel that our classrooms are awfully noisy places in which our children are expected to listen and learn.

Obviously though, not everyone is supportive and one of the interesting things that has been said is that FM systems or personal microphone devices between a teacher and a deaf child overcome the disadvantage of poor acoustics. The implication always given, whether intended or not, is that you shouldn’t bother spending any money on improving the listening environment just for the benefit of deaf children – just give them a microphone.

One of the reasons why I’m good value for money as a campaigns officer is that I can rebut this quite easily just by talking about me. I had a microphone system in school when I was growing up. It was really important, yes, and allowed me to pick up what the teacher was saying more easily. Teachers would often forget to turn it off and my peers would be amazed that I could hear was going on in the staff room.

Unfortunately, microphones don’t just pick up what the teacher is saying. They pick everything else that was going on the classroom. If it was noisy, I would get a blast of amplified noise that made my head hurt. And the microphones were useless for group work or for picking up what other children were saying. And, like a lot of other deaf children, I used to personally loathe having to give it to teachers and to draw attention to my deafness. I often “forgot” to hand it over in assemblies. To this day, I don’t know how the Lord’s Prayer goes even though my hearing peers used to recite it every morning in primary school in assembly. No wonder I’m an atheist.

Anyhow, it seems like an obvious point. Yes, FM systems are needed. Yes, technology has moved on a bit. And good classroom management and deaf awareness / empowerment go a long way. But FM systems are a complement to good acoustics. They sure don’t solve bad acoustics. They amplify it! And, of course, not all deaf children use FM systems, particularly children with a mild hearing loss. What are they meant to do if the classroom is noisy? I personally dare anyone to makes this claim to speak with deaf children directly and to listen to what they tell them about their experiences.

We’ve made this point to the Government, as have other professional bodies, like the British Society of Audiology. The hope is that they do not use this alternative, flawed argument as a pretext for arguing it needn’t bother doing anything to improve acoustics.


3 thoughts on “FM systems a cure-all for bad acoustics?

  1. I am profoundly deaf and I use a cochlear implant.

    At one point in my high schooling two years ago, I tested a new FM device.

    You are absolutely correct in everything you have said.

    The device didn’t help to single out the instructor; it might as well have put my implant across the room.

    No assistance, merely hearing from a different location.

    I’m not 100% aware of how technology in that area has improved in the last two years, but I do hope, also, that these FM devices are not publicized as a huge assistance, when they are not.

    And, yes, hearing people often miss a huge point, which is the Deaf child’s dignity.

    Being singled out and having a spotlight cast upon us for being deaf or having hearing aids or a cochlear implant or an interpreter is bad enough without having a wire and microphone on the teacher to further point out “that deaf kid.”

    And, while pride is strong in the Deaf, it’s still at the very least annoying, and after awhile can still impact the Deaf individual’s emotions at the end of the day.

    Just more research, first, before putting out overrated equipment such as FM devices.


    And thanks for the wonderful post!

    You have this Deaf kid’s respect and support, for whatever it’s worth.


  2. My daughter is severly deaf and uses and FM system, she hates it because it blocks out the sound of the other children. So if the teacher asks the class a question and one of the other children answers, my daughter does not hear the answer, most teachers unless skilled teachers of the deaf would not repeat the answer but say ‘yes thats right’ and then move on leaving my daughter not knowing what the answer is. Also a lot of vocab is taken in from peripheral conversation not just the teach so FM systems are over rated, they have a role to play but they are not a complete answer to class room. We are currently looking at secondary schools as she will move to secondary education in 2010 but our local school is Cheshires resource school for the deaf and they have never even had an acoustics report! Its a very poor situation and leaves you feeling very anxious and looking at specialist schools which would involve boarding and breaking up your family just to get the education they deserve.

    • Look into CPrint and Real time – these are similar to the closed captions when watching a movie. As I understand this, the child can read from a laptop what is being said in class. A trained individual has to be in the classroom and capture this information as it is being said and through software it goes to the child’s computer. The other realtime I am still looking into – it may capture voice recognition and do something similar.

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