Dept turns a deaf ear to sign language exam requirements
Despite a lecturer saying she's collected 71 poems that deaf matric pupils can study, Basic Education can only find four
Academics and teachers teaching South African Sign Language (SASL) have slammed the Department of Basic Education for failing to provide the minimum prescribed literature material for study by deaf matric pupils.
According to figures from matric quality assurance body Umalusi, 69 deaf pupils from 11 schools have been provisionally registered to sit for the first-ever SASL exam at the end of the year.
But Basic Education director general Mathanzima Mweli admitted in a circular dated February that because of the “limited availability of SASL resources” the minimum requirements have not been met.
Instead of studying 10 poems, deaf matrics are studying four, including only one South African Sign Language poem – Soweto June 16th. Another two are in American Sign Language poems and one is in British Sign Language.
Other prescribed genres in SASL literature that pupils are not studying this year because of a lack of resource materials are drama and longer stories.But Ruth Morgan, a lecturer in SASL at the University of the Witwatersrand, said there were sufficient SASL poems for study by Grade 12 pupils.
She said that as part of her research last year she collected 71 SASL poems and 30 SASL haiku poems.
“There are definitely 10 poems that could have been prescribed for Grade 12 learners. There is no reason they should be studying poems in other sign languages.”
She believed the department had “short-changed” SASL pupils by not making available suitable SASL literature, and corresponding teaching guides, to pupils and teachers at all schools by January this year.
“It is unfair that they are being taught signed literature in other foreign sign languages.”Morgan said the main problem was a lack of people with SASL expertise leading the process.
“We have qualified deaf teachers with the expertise to lead this process. Why are they not being used?”
A teacher at a school catering for pupils with special education needs in Gauteng, who did not wish to be identified, said: “One would think they [the Department of Basic Education] would have had a fully-fledged curriculum in operation when they implemented it.
“It’s a lack of understanding of the deaf culture. They don’t understand the deaf child. They haven’t roped in people in the know to design the curriculum.”
The teacher said that the SASL curriculum was “half-baked”, adding: “It doesn’t go far enough. I don’t think it challenges the learners enough. At the end of it, when we come up with a mark, I don’t know how valid it is going to be because just going in front and signing something doesn’t mean that curriculum is appropriate.”Odette Swift, director of Deaf Education at the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said the shortage of material for literature study in Grade 12 was “a grave concern”.
“What is particularly worrying is that, despite DeafSA highlighting the need for LTSM [learner teacher support materials] development and teacher training before implementation, this was not done. The department insisted on this long, tedious process of seeing what materials are already available and waiting for others to fund materials development.
“The net result is that now we are sitting with a Grade 12 which the department has admitted is severely short of literature material.”
Commenting on the fact that only four prescribed poems were offered for study, she said: “This means the curriculum is being implemented with 10% South African Sign Language poetry. Which other language has been implemented for home language with 10% of the required poetry?
“We have no objections to students being exposed to other sign languages such as the American and British sign languages but that should be for enrichment purposes only.
“DeafSA’s stance is that it is infringing on the linguistic rights of deaf learners since the language has been disrespected by not adequately resourcing the subject.”Swift said the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) curriculum for SASL was finalised in 2013, adding: “With the SASL CAPS having being finalised in 2013 and knowing that they were going to be writing matric in 2018 I find it difficult to believe that there wasn’t sufficient time to build up the necessary resources.
“The Department of Basic Education needs to take responsibility for the development of the materials. There’s no line item that I have seen in any year for SASL in the department’s budget.”
She said that DeafSA was adamant that they did not want the 2018 SASL exams to be cancelled.
“DeafSA does want the DBE to fund a winter school for all the Grade 12 learners writing this year. For example, the schools in Gauteng had a wonderful workshop run by Wits for free. What about schools in other provinces?
“This we feel will give all the learners a fair chance to perform to the best of their ability in the exam.”She said DeafSA wants the DBE to acknowledge that the manner of implementation is not respectful of the language or the community and to present the broader deaf community with an action plan on how this will be reversed for the 2019 cohort.
“This includes an action plan on how the required literature quota will be achieved in SASL, to exclude British and American Sign Language texts from a SASL exam. This is unacceptable.”
“We are excited that SASL has been implemented but disappointed in the way in which it was implemented,” she said.
The Department of Basic Education did not respond to a media enquiry that was e-mailed last Tuesday.