DZT escalates push for Sign Language syllabus

HARARE - Students living with hearing impairments are seeking a public education more tailored to their needs.

The Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) said public schools must offer deaf students a special educational programme sufficiently ambitious to ensure they make progress.

DZT is advocating for the operationalisation of the language rights in the Constitution, noting with concern that Zimbabwe has still not developed a Sign Language syllabus.

This was highlighted by DZT ahead of September 23, which the United Nations designated last December as the International Day of Sign Languages.

This day will be celebrated for the first time in 2018. 

While the Primary and Secondary Education ministry in its new curriculum has made the syllabi for Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Tshivenda, Kalanga, Nambya, Sesotho, Shangani and many other local languages — the new programme of study is conspicuously silent on the indigenous language of the deaf community.

Sign language is a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expression, and body language.

The shape, movement, and location of the hands, facial expressions and body are used to communicate with one another.

“The challenge is that instead of a policy, an inclusive education handbook has been developed which will not have the same force of policy hence our demands,” DZT director Barbara Nyangairi said.

She pointed out that pupils with disabilities suffer discrimination and sometimes end up withdrawing from school because the education system is designed in a way that does not cater for their special needs.

“Learners with visual impairments are not able to access reading materials in accessible formats, and children with Down’s Syndrome are not provided with education that encompasses necessary life skills for independent living,” she said.

“The education system does not have the capacity to provide support to children with intellectual disabilities such as autism and in many cases parents are forced to withdraw children because the school does not know how to provide support.”

The director said there are over 85 000 deaf children in the country and over 90 percent are not in school.

She urged the Education ministry to implement this policy as soon as possible so as to give all children, disabled or not, a right to education.

“Inclusive education is a human rights-based approach which recognises that it is barriers in society that must be removed to ensure all children achieve their potential,” she said.

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