Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Sign Language Education and Development (SLED)

Unlocking the door to education for deaf learners

Category: Creative Learners | Literacy development among particularly vulnerable groups | 31 July, 2012 - 18:35

Deaf South African Sign Language Teachers – The Key
The challenge
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 fighting to improve literacy levels of learners at mainstream schools so one of our most vulnerable groups - Deaf children are 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.  
Potential Impact
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 they learn it 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 strategy
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 are ready and qualified to teach SASL to hearing teachers at South Africa’s 44 schools for the Deaf using suitable and appropriate materials.Thus creating teachers who can use SASL as a language of learning and teaching and providing the Deaf child with real equal access to education.  
To achieve this SLED will identify the best Deaf adults to become SASL teachers of hearing teachers from the Western Cape and Gauteng.  We will prepare the necessary training materials and run three workshops which will focus on training and assessing the SASL skills of the Deaf trainees.  South African Sign Language will be the language of learning and teaching at these workshops.  These workshops will also train and assess the facilitation and English literacy skills of the chosen group.  Other topics covered during these workshops include 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.  SLED is focused on 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 will have empowered and capacitated a selected group of South African Deaf facilitators. 
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 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. The training and materials have been uniquely created by Deaf South Africans for Deaf South Africans.  It is a trail-blazing, ground-breaking project that will provide literacy and quality of life for thousands of South Africans that have previously been denied these rights. 
Implementation from September 2011 to February 2012
Identifying the potential Deaf SASL facilitators
Our first goal was to identify the best Deaf adults to become South African Sign Language (SASL) teachers of hearing teachers.  This was done through contacting the provincial DeafSA offices, the Deaf Community of Cape Town and eDeaf.  These are national and provincial organisations working with South Africa’s Deaf community.  These yielded some possible interviewees but we felt that there should be a wider search so we attended Deaf events such as a World Aids Day celebration and found other possible contacts there.
Filmed face to face interviews were then conducted in South African Sign Language in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  After this the Deaf trainees who will participate in the first workshop were finalised by Deaf and hearing SLED members.
Project indicator – Deaf participants from Johannesburg and Cape Town were confirmed for the first workshop.
Creating and preparing appropriate teaching and support materials
Our second goal was to create and prepare appropriate teaching and support materials.  We initially reviewed existing materials that we had created for second language learners and had to adapt these for first language learners with poor literacy skills.  Additional training was done for SLED’s facilitators and the materials were then printed and copied.
Project indicator – SASL DVDs and manuals ready for facilitators and learners.
Deaf trainees complete SASL Stage One
The main thrust of this part of the project was the training of these Deaf adults in SASL at the first ten day workshop.  All of the participants were taught SLED’s Stage One course which is based on SAQA unit standards 115074 and 115079 at Level 4.  On Thursday 23rd February the participants produced evidence against these unit standards.  This process was filmed.  This evidence is currently being assessed and will be ready for moderation by 2nd March 2012.  All of the Deaf trainees are currently attending 4 hour weekly tutorials at SLEDs offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Project indicators – All participants trained and assessed against SASL level 4 unit standards.  Deaf participants interviewed in SASL on progress and learning.  SASL interviews translated into written English.  Deaf trainees attending ongoing tutorials.
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 has been predominantly working in isolation from other organisations.
The lessons that we have learnt from implementing this project are as follows:
Create and maintain a good relationship with other organisations in the same or similar field
As we were eager to find the best participants we could we sought support from several organisations.  Many of these we had worked with before but it would have been easier if we had maintained more regular contact and know who were the best people to work with in these organisations.
Word of mouth/hand can often work better
We also found that in the end word of mouth or word of hand was the most appropriate way to establish contact with relevant participants.  If we had to do this again we would have started earlier and worked more through individual contacts rather than organisations.
Start with what you know
The indepth interviews that we did with the participants after the workshop showed that we had exceeded the expectations of the first workshop.  Reflecting on this it was probably due to the experienced evaluation of course materials and facilitator skills.
Use Social Networking
SLED has only recently set up a facebook page however for the participants and supporters of our organisation this has been a real positive experience.  Our Deaf trainees are able to see what happened during the workshop and comment and reflect.
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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