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Rotary Club introduces Bilingualism in Deaf Education

Speaking is just one way of using a language especially for those who have hearing ability. Other ways are reading and writing. But as for the deaf, language can be expressed through the mouth or the hands. This is simply unique.
Like all people, the deaf have the right to quality education. This is the position of UNESCO. To achieve this however, special methodologies must be employed. One of such is the use of sign language as the only viable tool through which all kinds of information that translate to knowledge are channelled.
On this basis also, the United Nations advocates the linguistic human rights of students from minority cultures, specifically the right to education in their mother tongue. This includes the right of deaf people to sign language of their country.
Understandably, the deaf are primarily visual beings whose eyes are their portal to the world of information and knowledge while sign language is the only valid linguistic means available to them to actualize their aspirations for education.
It is on this premise that the Rotary Club of Lagos, in conjunction with the Nigeria National Association of the Deaf, organized a seminar titled “Sign Language and Bilingualism in Deaf Education” at the Wesley School for the Deaf, to educate the public on the importance of sign language.
The seminar, which took place on Saturday last week, hosted an expatriate Rotarian from India, Dr. Dilip Deshmukh Ichalkaranji, who spoke extensively on the “Deaf Way” as being centred on culture, language, history and art.
According to Dilip, “the deaf have a different culture because they can’t hear. But that does not make them animals; they are simply unique with their special sign language,” he said.
The Doctor explained that sign language has its syntactic and grammatical structure designed only for the deaf, and that the problem of the deaf is not their inability to hear but the understanding of the hearing people that the deaf have a language.
He convinced the audience that effective use of sign language and the method of bilingualism will go a long way to actualizing the objective of deaf education which is not intended to make them speak but to develop their cognitive, social and academic skills.
In a linguistic context, bilingualism is the ability to use two different languages fluently. That is, apart from one’s mother tongue or first language (L1), the understanding and usage of a second language (L2) which could be foreign, must be at par with the first.
In deaf education however, bilingualism is simply a viable two dimensional method employed to use sign language effectively in teaching the deaf. It combines oral renditions and gestures – the use of signs.
Dilip expatiated that the deaf have visual capability to decode verbal speech. They simply focus their attention on the movement of the mouth and other body parts to understand what the speaker is saying.
He, however, noted that they learn and understand faster with the use of signs, gestures and facial movement than oral articulations. “That is why emphasis is placed more on signs than oral,” he added.
Effective utilization of the bilingual approach, can afford deaf people with a strong language base, which equips them better for success in the broad range of educational subjects; according to the Doctor.
Studies have shown that the use of sign language dates back to the 16 century when the Italian physician, Girolamo Cardano discovered the method for the first time. Before then, the deaf were completely neglected; educators were confused and divided on how best to teach the deaf.
Girolamo’s efforts were not taken serious at first until Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet took them on in the early 18 century. His efforts led to the establishment of the first school for the deaf in America which has now become the only deaf university in the world.
In Nigeria, deaf education suffered neglect until 1975. Since then, a few schools for the deaf have been established to build on the efforts of Andrew Foster, a graduate of Gallaudet, who took passionate interest in helping his fellow deaf in Nigeria and other parts of Africa to acquire formal education.
But according to reports, deaf schools in the country are underfunded, unequipped and without competent manpower to deliver quality education to the deaf. The President of NNAD, Mr. Dagbo Suleiman confirmed this fact at the seminar.
Dagbo lamented how the government has not been responsive to the needs of the deaf. He said “deaf people are being marginalized and discriminated against. And their rights to quality education, like other citizens of the country, are being encroached upon. Instead of the government to change the situation, it is rather making it worse by appointing non-deaf to preside over the deaf in special departments, units and ministerial commissions about the deaf.”
Worse yet, reports have shown that 99 per cent of the deaf are being denied employment opportunities in the country. Even those who have taken time to acquire formal education with the hope of gainful employment are rather, being relegated and neglected at the end of the day to fend for themselves. That is why many of them have taken up tailoring, carpentry, shoe-making, catering and other artisan services to earn a living.
It is a pathetic situation that requires immediate correction by the government and other stakeholders in the country. To this, Dr. Dilip advised that in order to achieve the fundamental objectives of deaf education in Nigeria “there must be an indigenous sign language like the American Sign Language (ASL); and there has to be a serious re-orientation, recognition and motivation on the part of the government,” he said.
This calls for sincerity of purpose in the formulation and implementation of policy on deaf education. For now, the organizers of this seminar are determined to reach other parts of the country with the campaign so that the authorities concerned will take the necessary action to reverse the situation.
The President of the Rotary Club Lagos, Palm Groove Estate, Mr. Jajoo V.G, expressed optimism that the campaign is set out to achieve predetermined goals for the interest of all the deaf people in the country. “I have seen the sad situation of deaf people in Nigeria and other parts of the world, and I was moved with pity to organize this seminar. It is the first in Nigeria but the mindset is to reach other parts of the country. I am happy with the response so far,” he said.
The message is that, deaf people have the right to expect that their human, linguistic and educational rights are respected and supported by the government and educational authorities, in full compliance with international policy statements, national legislation and national curricula. Anything short of this will be a violation.

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