- Factors Affecting Deaf Education in South Africa
The most challenging part of being involved in the field of Deaf education in South Africa, especially as a Deaf person and a Deaf teacher, is knowing that Deaf learners, for the most part, are fully capable of achieving the same educational outcomes expected of any other learner but are, frustratingly, not currently achieving equal outcomes in an atmosphere of low expectations, and are perceived by the system as not being able to do so. As a person who has a vested personal and professional interest in this field, I indeed find it an experience of mental and emotional extremes. On the one hand is the state of joy and confidence in knowing that Deaf learners can achieve all of the developmental outcomes expected by education curricula, because I have witnessed this in my years as a Deaf teacher of Deaf learners and, subsequently, deputy principal of a school for the Deaf. On the other hand is the state of frustration, despondency, and despair that results from dealing with the long list of challenges that exist not only in education in general but more so in the field of Deaf education at every level [End Page 490] of the system. These dealings involve matters such as policy implementation, teacher training, learner assessment, and curriculum adaptations, and are part of what I do in my position as director of Deaf education of the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA)-the national association of the Deaf in South Africa. Having been involved in Deaf education for 15 years and at many levels, I have observed some recurring factors to affect Deaf education on a macro level in South Africa.
The Department of Education
In South Africa, the Department of Education is a multi-tiered organization that heads nine provincial departments of education which in turn head a number of different local and district units that are responsible for different aspects of the education system. However, at a decision-making and policymaking level, specialist skills and knowledge of Deaf learners’ specific needs are insufficient to advise on appropriate Deaf education practices and support. Nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private service providers almost constantly find themselves in opposition to any educational decision involving Deaf learners made by Department of Education officials. Repeated efforts are made to educate the right people in the Department of Education on the different and unique aspects of the education of a Deaf child. However, if one is not regularly immersed in the practicalities, methodology, and literature of the discipline, one will end up making decisions that are not in the best interests of all Deaf children. Moreover, although the sign language rights of the Deaf child are recognized in most education policy documents in South Africa, the true challenge arises when these policies need to be implemented.
As has been mentioned before, specialist skills in Deaf education within the ranks of the Department of Education are sparse; this, as a result, weakens department members’ ability to implement policies effectively. Furthermore, it is assumed that if one is a specialist in, for example, blindness or autism, then this status gives one license to be a specialist in other areas of disability, deafness in our case. This situation is potentially devastating for Deaf learners and those who work closely with them on a daily basis because many years of effective work can be undone overnight by an ill-advised decision that suddenly becomes national policy without the correct consultation with people in the field. A classic example is South Africa’s National Curriculum Statements, in which South African Sign Language (SASL) is mentioned alongside braille as a tool or mode of communication. This has effectively undone many years of work and effort on the part of the Deaf community to establish the proper definition of SASL as a language in its own right.
Teachers and Principals
Teachers: Confusing Roles
Although the Department of Education is seriously lacking in its support, inspection, and control of teachers of the Deaf in different aspects, such as curriculum implementation, teaching methodology, and qualification requirements, many teachers enter the classroom for Deaf learners with...