Promoting the Use of Sign Language in Schools
Statement by Minister of Education Donald Grant
For a deaf child, receiving a “home language” education means having the option of being educated in sign language.
Sadly the opportunity for a deaf learner to be taught in sign language as a Language of Learning and Teaching (LOLT) or as a subject has not been available in our schools until recently.
While the importance of sign language was identified in our Constitution, it has taken a long time before our learners benefitted from its provisions. In Chapter 1 (Founding Provisions), Section 6 (5), it says that the Pan South African Language Board (Pansalb) must "promote and create conditions for the development and use of" sign language.
It is very unfortunate that there has been this delay. However, I am pleased that the Western Cape Government has taken the lead in promoting the use of sign language, particularly in our schools, and working towards South African Sign Language becoming part of the National Curriculum Statement, right up to grade 12.
In 2010, Premier Zille appointed a Task Team to investigate the state of education at special needs schools accommodating deaf/hard-of-hearing children in the Western Cape.
The task team made specific recommendations for improving the quality of teaching and learning in the schools.
One of the recommendations was to introduce South African Sign Language (SASL) as a Language of Teaching and Learning in the classroom.
It also recommended establishing SASL as a subject in schools for the deaf.
During this period, a draft SASL curriculum was also being developed by the WCED. The WCED also seconded a principal from the Free State to provide input on this programme.
In 2010 a detailed plan was provided for piloting the curriculum for South African Sign Language.
The following year a pilot project to test the draft curriculum and to introduce SASL as a home language was initiated at De La Bat School for the Deaf in Worcester.
The pilot, the first of its kind in South Africa, initially targeted the Foundation Phase, but was then expanded in 2012 to the Intermediate Phase and the Senior Phase in 2013.
SASL curriculum was fully implemented in Grade R-6 and partially implemented in Grade 7-12 at the school.
Given the success of the pilot, the programme was expanded to four other schools for the deaf this year, namely:
- Dominican Wittebome
- Mary Kihn
- Nuwe Hoop
The SASL curriculum is being implemented in Grade R-3 at these schools.
However, all teachers at these schools have been trained to teach using SASL as LOLT. Training has also been provided to “deaf assistants” and “in-house” training in foundation phase classes.
As a result of the pilot, SASL has been standardised in all our deaf schools in this province. Whereas, before, children from different areas or schools were being taught different dialects of sign language.
The pilot is due to end at the end of September 2013, with the final report to be submitted to the National Department of Basic Education during October 2013.
I am now thrilled to be party to a recent decision by the National Department of Basic Education (DBE) to introduce an SASL curriculum for Grades R-12 in our schools in 2014.
A draft curriculum for Grade R-12 had been developed by DBE in consultation with the Western Cape Task Team (stationed at De La Bat). De la Bat is currently testing the new SASL CAPS curriculum in Grade 1-3 and 9 and is providing feedback to DBE.
The implementation of SASL curriculum in schools will follow a phased-in approach.
- 2014 – Foundation Phase and Grade 9
- 2015 – Intermediate Phase and Grade 10
- 2016 –Senior Phase and Grade 11
- 2017 – Grade 12
In the Western Cape, our five schools for deaf learners are currently preparing for the introduction of SASL as a home language.
The Western Cape already has an advantage as the schools are all familiar with the use of a uniform SASL in the classroom. It has also had the opportunity to test the Caps curriculum In Grade 1-3 and 9.
Further training for educators will however take place in September or October 2013.
I am very pleased that learners across the country will now have the opportunity to receive an education in their home language of choice – sign language.
And I am proud of the role the Western Cape Government, the WCED and our schools, particularly De La Bat, have played in making this dream a reality for our deaf learners.
I am hopeful that, in future, we will be ableoption in hearing schools, particularly in our full-service schools where this is reasonably practicable. However, a lot more work lies ahead of us, and the rest of the country, before this can be implemented.