Deaf pupils can now learn sign language at school after the Department of Basic Education (DBE) included it to the curriculum offered to them at schools.
Both the current National Curriculum Statement (NCS) and its Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) will now include South African Sign Language (SASL).
The subject will be rolled out in four phases – first to the foundation phase (Grades R-3), then to the intermediate phase (Grades 4-6), senior phase (Grades 7-9) and further education and training phase (Grades 10-12).
The new curriculum will follow a phased-in approach which will see all grades eventually using the curriculum by 2016.
The department describes the South African Sign Language as a visual and active language that is unlike any written or spoken language in the country. For learners to pick up the language, teachers need to be equipped to teach it.
However, a survey carried out by the department last year revealed that 80 per cent of teachers in the country do not know how to sign or understand the country’s sign language. Provincial departments of education trained teachers and district officials in SASL last year in preparation for the roll out.
In Gauteng there are 1 786 deaf pupils at seven specialised schools. Teachers from one of these schools - St Vincent School for the Deaf in Johannesburg – received training in SASL.
Principal Ingrid Parker said teachers received SASL Level 1 training and would continue with Levels 2 and 3 later in the year.
Teachers have been schooled in the basics of SASL but have not yet been taught how to teach SASL using the new curriculum. Training on the usage and implementation of the new SASL CAPS curriculum will be rolled out during Level 2 and 3 training. To date the provincial education department has trained 115 teachers and officials in SASL.
Parker said that the new curriculum, rolled out from Grade R, would be easily picked up by deaf learners and gives recognition to a language that the deaf community already uses.
The principal, who herself has a hearing disability, added that she was thrilled that deaf learners could now study two languages as required by the Language in Education Policy.
“Deaf people have been exempted from doing the second language and receive an endorsed matric which is still seen as inferior. An important step is to get SASL as a recognised university acceptance subject,” she said.