By Kouthar Sambo
South Africa now has 12 official languages.
This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa officially signed into law the South African Sign Language Bill at the Union Building in Pretoria yesterday.
According to Ramaphosa, recognising Sign Language as South Africa’s 12th official language is a milestone. He further added that the passing of this bill will resolve many barriers between citizens and the deaf community.
As it currently stands, South Africa is the fourth country in Africa to recognise sign language as an official language. Other countries include Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda.
But what does the passing of this bill mean for learning institutions for the hearing impaired?
“About six years ago, we morphed into an advocacy group that creates awareness for the deaf community. Our purpose is to ensure that the deaf community is included in the hearing society. Their handicap is not so much their deafness as it is our inability to communicate with them,” said the chairperson of Al Waagah Institute for the Deaf, Dr. Cassiem de Wet.
He went on to say that passing the bill means that the deaf have access to their mother tongue, Sign Language.
Teachers should be trained in Sign Language, explains de Wet, and it is rather “sad” as young learners have not been taught Sign Language.
“At the moment, we have been instructing them in oral language, which is Afrikaans or Xhosa, or whatever their home language may be. This has inhibited them to strive for a quality education,” explained de Wet.
To address the lack of access to Sign Language, Al Waagah Institute plans to establish a Montessori preschool to ensure that young learners can learn Sign Language.
The objective is to ensure that the deaf community can integrate more effectively into society, explained de Wet, and the bill ensures that the rights of deaf people are enshrined in education and society at large.
However, de Wet added that it will be a long journey for teachers as they require proper training before the language can be infiltrated into society for a smoother transition in communication.
“The deaf has been tagged as special learners who should only be able to attend special schools for the deaf with the provision of special education, which up until today is, and has been inadequate,” said de Wet.
“The Montessori method leans toward simplifying the education system. Teachers spend most of their time with their back to the class, writing on the board, and a deaf learner cannot learn in that environment. If we can ensure that deaf people have access to quality education, then we will go a long way in ensuring that the deaf people will enjoy their rights in our community,” added de Wet.