Saturday, June 2, 2007

NCCU, Chinese in joint venture

DURHAM - Communication therapists at N.C. Central University are forging relationships with Chinese universities to provide formal speech training to college students half a world away.

Faculty in NCCU's communication disorders department, in the School of Education, plan to use distance education to offer formal speech therapy to English-speaking Chinese students.

This training would fill a huge void, said Thomas Layton, one of the NCCU speech pathologists involved in the program. China has far too few speech therapists; there are only about 50 in Beijing, a city of 20 million, Layton said. By comparison, there are more than 1,500 in North Carolina, which has about 9 million people. All of China has about 500 speech therapists, he said.

"Our little state has more than in their whole country," Layton said. "There is an unbelievable number of children and adults who need speech therapy."

Layton is working with NCCU professor Jianping Hao, who received two medical degrees in China before coming to the United States and obtaining a Ph.D. in speech science from Kent State University.

Now, just one Chinese University offers an undergraduate speech and language pathology program, and it is not as formal as it needs to be, Layton said, likening much of China's speech education to "on-the-job training." NCCU's program, strictly a graduate venture on campus, will offer a more structured set of courses. Officials hope to offer four or five courses beginning in the spring.

Courses will tackle various speech-related sub-disciplines associated with children and adults. Treatment for autism will be one focus, as will aphasia, a speech condition afflicting stroke sufferers.

This fall, NCCU expects to get its first Chinese faculty member as an exchange scholar as well as Chinese professionals who will train NCCU students to use Dr. Speech, a software package developed by them that has universal application. Eventually, Hao and Layton expect to send NCCU students to China to work with scholars, professionals and patients.