Deaf pupils to be taught in sign language

19 August 2014 - 02:01
By Shaun Smillie and Katharine Child
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. File photo.
Image: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. File photo.

Sign language has been recognised as a home language at school - but now the race is on to have it available for next year's intake.

The change - which will allow a deaf pupil to choose sign language as a first language - was approved by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga this month.

It will be rolled out first at schools for the deaf, department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said.

"Later it will be expanded to ordinary schools," he said. "It is anticipated that universities will train teachers to teach sign language in ordinary schools."

He said the focus of the training will be to maintain signing uniformity and the dialect of South African sign language.

Getting the curriculum up and running will be difficult, said Cara Loening, director of Sign Language Education and Development. She and other deaf advocates have been fighting for this for years.

"When it comes to teaching a language, it is preferable to use the first language of users," Loening said. "Unfortunately, most deaf adults can't use sign language, because we came out of this rotten system."

Teachers are having to be trained to teach in sign language. "It is one thing to be able to use [sign language], but another to be able to teach it," she said.

Unemployment among South Africa's deaf is high, in part because few have matriculated.

She says teaching material is another important factor, and a n audit is being done to see what is available.