Educating the deaf in South Africa began in King William’s Town in 1888 with the opening of the King William’s Town Convent School for the Education of the Deaf.
In the early part of last century Johannesburg had only one small school for deaf children while the Cape had three. With the help of the Minister of Education, it was decided to pool resources between the provinces. The Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena, King William’s Town, bought a ten acre property in Melrose, Johannesburg, called “The Haven”, and transferred the existing smaller school’s staff and children to the new premises.
The school was named St Vincent School for the Deaf after St Vincent Ferrer, a 14th century Dominican preacher who was renowned for restoring hearing to deaf people.
St Vincent has a proud history of educating deaf children for the past 75 years. It currently has 270 pupils ranging in age from 22 months to 20 years. Traditionally, St Vincent educated mostly white children, but over the last two decades the demographics have changed, and now 81 % of the learners are black, almost 8% are white and the remaining 11% are made up of Indian and Coloured learners. A few of the learners live close by in areas such as Alex, Berea and Randburg, but the vast majority live beyond a 30km radius of St Vincent. At least 15 of the learners come from other African countries, including the DRC, Gabon, Kenya and Nigeria.
The change in the school’s demographics reflects the improved medical care available to children from higher income-bracket families and, for those who can afford it, the impact of cochlea implant procedures that have successfully enabled many deaf children to hear.