IM this article to a friend!

November 13, 2002

Deaf to march for sign language

From: Dispatch Online, South Africa
Nov. 13, 2002

PRETORIA -- Deaf South Africans will participate in marches all over the country early next year to demand education in SA sign language (SASL).

"We have been lobbying for eight years and nothing has happened," Nico Beaurain, acting national director of the Deaf Federation of SA (Deafsa), told Sapa yesterday.

Last month Education Minister Kader Asmal released the draft curriculum for grades 10 to 12 for public comment. The curriculum provides that pupils should take two of South Africa's 11 official languages, one of which should be the medium of instruction.

Although SASL enjoys constitutional recognition, it is not an official language in South Africa.

"We were quite surprised to learn it was not among the subjects," Beaurain said.

Deafsa had been appealing to the provincial and national Education Departments for eight years to have SASL as a subject and medium of instruction.

"We had an educational consultant for eight years who worked full-time on submissions to the Education Department and other state institutions.

"We have boxes and boxes of submissions and action plans," he said.

"We are deeply disappointed. We feel they have failed us."

The marches would take place in provincial capitals shortly before the opening of Parliament.

Memoranda would be handed over to government representatives. People with other disabilities would participate with the deaf, Beaurain said.

"We know what it is to be marginalised," he said.

"We want Parliament to take a decision on this issue."

On Monday, Asmal told Sapa his department would look seriously at the introduction of SASL as a subject and medium of instruction.

The issue should be taken up at the meeting of the heads of the national and provincial Education Departments, Asmal said.

The director-general of Education, Thami Mseleku, told Sapa that the national department would be able to report on progress in February. That is when the grade 10 to 12 curriculum will be finalised.

Beaurain, asked whether Deafsa thought there was reason for optimism about the inclusion of SASL, said: "They must be forced to do it.

"With our action, the government and Parliament will take notice."

Beaurain said that at the School for the Deaf he attended there were only three or four teachers who were proficient in SASL.

One of the demands with the march would be that all teachers at such schools should be re-evaluated.

"If they cannot use sign language, they must be forced to be trained to use it effectively," he said.

"The standard of deaf education is extremely low. Languages are only offered at standard grade. Because of that, learners cannot get matriculation exemption.

"So many learners ask to take subjects in the higher grade, but schools refuse to offer that. Their whole future is being ruined."

According to deaf education consultant Dr Elsabe Smuts-Pauw there is a 70 percent unemployment rate among the deaf.

"The fact is, sign language is their first language. That is recognised worldwide."

A spoken or written language could only be taught effectively to deaf pupils through the medium of their first language, Smuts-Pauw said.

"Because this is not taking place, the majority of our deaf learners leave school with the written language ability of an eight-year-old."

To adequately address the SASL needs of deaf pupils required their being taught through SASL by teachers fluent in the language and being able to take it as one of their languages of choice, she said.

"The deaf continuously suffer discrimination." -- Sapa

© Dispatch Online