Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Sign Language Education and Development (SLED)

The Key to unlocking the door to education for Deaf learners

Category: Creative Learners | Literacy development among particularly vulnerable groups | 29 May, 2013 - 20:00


In 1994 South Africa was re-born as a democracy. However, the silent cries of her Deaf children for the right to education, have yet to be heard.

  • Most Deaf young adults spend 13 years at school and then leave school functionally illiterate.
  • Deaf children in schools are not taught in their first language, South African Sign Language (SASL).
  • At least 80% of teachers of the Deaf cannot use or understand SASL.
  • Most Deaf people are unable to gain a tertiary qualification, and if they are able to get a job, it is usually as an unskilled worker with a wage that can only supplement their Disability Grant. 
  • The Department of Basic Education is working to improve literacy levels of learners at mainstream schools and so one of our most vulnerable groups, Deaf children, remains marginalised.
  • In November 2010, there were 6673 Deaf children at schools.  

The alarming lack of academic achievement in schools for Deaf children indicates that the majority of educators of Deaf children cannot use South African Sign Language as a language of learning and teaching well enough to support the required learning outcomes for Deaf learners at all grade levels.  

Since 2001, Sign Language Education and Development (SLED) has become known throughout South Africa and its neighbouring countries, as a Deaf non-profit organisation that is committed to providing the Deaf child of South Africa with an equal and democratic right to literacy, learning and access to information through the promotion of South African Sign Language (SASL). 

Potential Impact: why we need to teach Deaf children South African Sign Language and English

Although South African Sign Language is the most natural language for a Deaf child, it is rarely learnt from those surrounding young Deaf children. It is most often introduced only when they attend school, and then it is learnt primarily from other children, not from experienced adult users.

To further complicate the world of learning for the Deaf child, South African Sign Language (SASL) is not written, so it is necessary for Deaf children to master both SASL and English (written English is the most appropriate language as it allows the Deaf learner access to tertiary education). In other words, Deaf children must become bilingual, not in the usual sense but in the differing and dual modes of a signed system and a written system. International research in Deaf education continues to indicate that a bilingual language approach provides Deaf children with the most effective education.  

If Deaf school leavers acquire South African Sign Language (SASL) and English literacy at an early age they will become literate; be able to access an equal, complete education; and will ultimately gain a qualification that will allow them to access tertiary education. They will then be able to follow their chosen career path and contribute to the South African community in a meaningful way. Hopefully many of them will become educators and have a positive influence on the subsequent generations of Deaf learners.

SLED’s purpose, strategic approach and expected outcomes for Stage 1

Between February and September 2012, SLED implemented the first stage of its trail-blazing, ground-breaking project to provide literacy and quality of life for thousands of South Africans that have previously been denied these rights. Using training and materials uniquely created by Deaf South Africans for Deaf South Africans, this innovative project allows the Deaf child, through the training of her teachers, to achieve age-appropriate literacy at an early age. This means that she or he will be able to get a matric certificate and can go on to tertiary education and become a meaningful contributor to the South African society and economy.

Purpose: To produce a pilot group of qualified, confident Deaf teachers who have studied and understood the complexities of their language (South African Sign Language - SASL) for the first time, and who would be ready and qualified to teach SASL to hearing teachers at South Africa’s 44 schools for the Deaf using suitable and appropriate materials. In so doing, our ultimate aim is to create teachers who can use SASL as a language of learning and teaching, and who are providing the Deaf child with real equal access to education.  

Strategy: SLED identified the best Deaf adults to become SASL teachers of hearing teachers from the Western Cape and Gauteng. We prepared the necessary training materials for these adults. We then ran three workshops, which focussed on training and assessing the SASL skills of the Deaf trainees.  

South African Sign Language was the language of learning and teaching at these workshops. The workshops also trained and assessed the English literacy and facilitation skills of the selected group. Other topics covered during these workshops included introduction to language bridging education; Deaf history and culture – both nationally and internationally; who I am and how do I fit into the Deaf world; personal development; what is my role as a Deaf role model; and an introduction to curriculum.  

Outcomes: 16 Deaf facilitators trained, assessed and accredited in: 

  • Their first language, South African Sign Language (SAQA Unit Standards at Level 4 115074 and 115079 and Level 5 115803, 115813 and 115814) = 23 credits
  • Facilitation and teaching skills (SAQA Unit Standards at Level 4 7384 and 10231) = 24 credits 
  • English fundamentals (SAQA Unit Standards at Level 3 US 119457 and 119465) = 10 credits

Now we will be able to offer a facilitation qualification and a higher level SASL qualification to Deaf adults who currently receive a minimum wage or are unemployed. This means that they are able to be up-skilled to be employed as SASL facilitators. We will also be able to roll out this training to other unemployed Deaf young adults, thereby providing them with vital skills that will enhance their job-creation opportunities.

Building on training to further equip participants

Deaf trainees complete SASL

The main thrust of this part of the project was the build-on training of these Deaf adults in SASL at a second and third ten-day workshop. The participants achieved their Stage One SASL at Level 4 during the first workshop. All of the participants were taught SLED’s Stage Two course, which is based on SAQA unit standards 115803, 115804 and 115814 at Level 5. The Deaf trainees then produced evidence against these unit standards. This process was filmed. This evidence was assessed, moderated and verified by the ETDP Seta.  

Project indicators: All participants trained, assessed, moderated and verified against SASL level 5 unit standards. Deaf participants interviewed in SASL and questionnaires completed on progress and learning. SASL interviews translated into written English. Deaf trainees form part of an ongoing mentoring programme at SLED.

Deaf trainees work on their English Skills

As discussed previously, it was decided that the English unit standards were too difficult for the participants to attain. So instead, during the second and third workshop, there was a concentrated focus on training the participants in the English skills necessary for:

  • Producing written reports based on observation and assessments
  • Writing more grammatically correct critiques of their lessons using prompts and the Facilitation Guide
  • Writing reflectively on their lessons.

Project indicators: All participants trained. Deaf participants interviewed in SASL and questionnaires completed on progress and learning. SASL interviews translated into written English. Deaf trainees are part of an ongoing mentoring programme at SLED.

Deaf trainees trained as Facilitators

As SLED is not accredited to offer the Level 4 Facilitator Course, we used an external provider. Training was not matched to the learning needs of the group and this meant that the SLED team had to put in greater input than originally intended. However, additional tutorials were highly beneficial for both the trainers and the trainees at both SLED offices.

Project indicators: 13 participants trained and assessed against the level 4 Facilitating unit standards. These results will be moderated and verified shortly. However, we have been assured by the training provider that all 13 participants have achieved. Deaf participants interviewed in SASL and questionnaires on progress and learning. SASL interviews translated into written English. Deaf trainees are part of an on going mentoring programme at SLED.

Implications for other implementers

SLED has been teaching South African Sign Language for the last ten years. However, most of that training has been aimed at the hearing community and we have predominantly worked in isolation from other organisations and providers.

The lessons learnt from implementing this part of the project are as follows:

  • If you are using an external training provider, then double the time allocated for your pre-planning activities.
  • If we had worked with the training provider in more depth prior to the training, we would have been better able to assist them in their preparation, and also have understood better the input that we would have to give after the training.
  • Never forget the joy! We are a small organisation with a huge task. We are often so busy keeping up with the day-to-day obstacles that we forget the importance of what we are doing. As these Deaf participants were challenged and thrived, the joy of their discoveries was incredible. One of them described it best: ‘It is the first time for us - the first time that we have been taught in our own language about our own language. But it is more than that; it is the first time that we were really taught and we really learnt.’

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In Short

Learn how Sign Language Education and Development (SLED) is building the capacity of Deaf adult SASL users in order that they too can become proficient trainers of SASL to hearing adults, primarily teachers of Deaf children. On completion of this training, SLED would have empowered and capacitated a selected group of South African Deaf facilitators and contributed to the development of quality education for deaf children in SA.

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