- Postgraduate Study for Deaf South Africans
In 2009, the University of the Witwatersrand Center for Deaf Studies celebrated 11 years as the Center of Excellence in Deafness leading the way nationally and in the rest of Africa in developing and equipping educators of the Deaf and families and communities with Deaf and hard of hearing family members and infants with the necessary skills and knowledge to provide people who are Deaf with equal opportunities.
Deafness is considered to be one of the single largest prevailing disabilities in South Africa. The Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) estimates that some 10% of the South African population is disabled in some way and that approximately 3.5% have some degree of hearing loss. Within this group, the number of Deaf people who accept sign language as their first language is estimated at 500,000. Of this number, approximately 66% of Deaf persons in South Africa are functionally illiterate, approximately 70% of the Deaf population is unemployed, and, on average, the adult Deaf person’s general knowledge level is equal to that of an 8-year-old hearing child.
The situation described above is due largely to the fact that teachers of the Deaf are not adequately equipped to intervene effectively; nor is the education system sufficiently accessible to Deaf learners. At the core, however, is the fact that families and their Deaf babies are not supported in their journey, a situation that thus leads to a lack of access to equal opportunities for Deaf learners. In order to assist in addressing this problem, the University of the Witwatersrand initiated the Center for Deaf Studies in 1998, with the generous backing of the donor community.
In order to meet the holistic needs of the Deaf community, the Center for Deaf Studies has been working in three key areas (teaching, research, and community outreach) and has trained more than 450 people as teachers of the Deaf, early interventionists, and users of South African Sign Language (SASL), as well as SASL trainers.
Deaf Education—the academic unit within the Center for Deaf Studies—has been successfully training teachers of the Deaf since 2000. Currently [End Page 502] among the graduates from the ACE (Advanced Certificate), B.Ed. Honors, and master’s in education programs are a principal, vice principals and heads of departments (who have been promoted due to their study in Deaf Education), South African Department of Education officials, teachers, psychologists, speech therapists, and audiologists. To date, in addition to South Africa, the Center has attracted students from Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Madagascar.
The Center for Deaf Studies currently offers two academic programs within the School of Education: B.Ed. Honors and an ACE, both specializing in Deaf education. Specialized distance education course materials were developed for these courses (to allow access for educators from all over South Africa), and they are currently a great resource for our teachers (both during the course and once they have qualified). Postgraduate study by dissertation is also available to master’s and doctoral candidates.
Research and advocacy are an important part of the academic role of the Center for Deaf Studies, as well as the academic outlet for community projects. Currently, research interests include early intervention and family support, bilingual-bicultural Deaf education, new trends in Deaf education such as outcomes-based education and inclusion, and sign language and teacher efficacy. The Center recently launched a longitudinal study into the efficacy of early intervention in the holistic development of the Deaf baby and toddler.
The Center for Deaf Studies has made a concerted effort to make its intellectual resources available to the community through training workshops, speaking opportunities, and advice to the community as needs arise.
Training workshops have been offered to SASL tutors (thus equipping Deaf people to start their own businesses in training hearing people in SASL) and to parents and caregivers. In addition, SASL courses have been offered to others such as personnel within national and provincial government departments, as well as individuals who want to learn how to communicate with Deaf South Africans.
One of the areas that...