van Asch Deaf Education Centre (now called Ko Taku Reo; formerly Sumner School for the Deaf then van Asch School for the Deaf). The school has a long and illustrious history, with its services covering a huge geographical spread. Established in 1880, van Asch is also the oldest special school establishment in New Zealand and is also believed to be the oldest fully government funded residential school in the world.

  • Deaf Education

van Asch Begins

Footage from ‘National Film Unit visits Sumner School for the Deaf – 75th Jubilee’, 1955.

Gerrit van Asch was from Rotterdam, Holland and was employed as director of the newly created School for the Deaf in Sumner. van Asch was a strong promoter of the German (or “oral”) system. His appointment and methods set the pattern for Deaf education in New Zealand for the next 100 years.

As well as attending class, students were involved in manual labour, milking cows, tending the vegetable gardens and doing the washing. This continued until 1936.

During the 1930s, students were placed into jobs by Department of Education placement officers after they left school.

Due to the outbreak of World War II, van Asch was used as a military base and North island students relocated to the Titirangi School in Auckland until Kelston School for the Deaf was built.

The World Visits

Footage from ‘Sumner School for the Deaf 75th Jubilee’, 1955.

van Asch received a number of visits from distinguished international guests including Alexander Graham Bell (who pioneered the telephone and was a strong supporter of oralist education) in 1911, Helen Keller in 1948 and even Michael J Fox in 1998!

van Asch has also had its fair share of attention when the school’s Marching Girls won numerous awards during 1953-1960.

Moving to Modern Times

Footage from ‘Sumner School for the Deaf 100 Years Centenary celebration’, 1980.

van Asch introduced the use of the Total Communication philosophy in 1979, until the introduction of the first bilingual-bicultural programmes in 1996. Up to 2019, van Asch was both a co-educational special school and a national resource centre, supporting Deaf and hearing-impaired children and students in the South Island and lower half of the North Island.

van Asch celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2005. It merged with Kelston Deaf Education Centre to become Ko Taku Reo in 2020.

Reference: Fogarty, P (2005) ‘Moving Hands, celebrating 125 years of Deaf Education,’ Silence Books, Auckland.