Students struggling to sign

May 15, 2019

Students struggling to sign

AUT students learning to sign. Photo: Hayley Twort

Accessing New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) in school remains a challenge 12 years after it was added to the curriculum.

Bridget Ferguson from Deaf Aotearoa said it was difficult for students to study the language in New Zealand.

“Even though it is an official language of New Zealand, it is challenging to find a school where you could actually study it, unless you have a teacher who, of their own efforts has gone and learnt the language and is proficient enough to teach it.”

Recently, an NZSL NCEA course was made available for level one to three students.

However, Ms Ferguson said only 200 students across the country were taking the classes.

However, AUT University’s deaf studies lecturer Rachel Coppage said “I believe it’s only available within a host school that has a deaf unit.

“The issue is that there are not enough human resources, so there are not enough deaf teachers to teach NZSL throughout schools.”

New Zealand is facing a shortage of NZSL interpreters, as reported earlier on Te Waha Nui.

Ms Ferguson said that along with building teacher and interpreter numbers, we also needed to focus on building a base for deaf learners to acquire NZSL as a foundation language.

“You don’t want to put too much effort into building up your interpreter numbers if you don’t have many kids using the language.

“We definitely need more hearing people signing and more people getting into the interpreting profession, but we also need more deaf kids being given the opportunity to be educated together with other deaf learners via NZSL as a direct language of instruction.”

Ms Coppage said there were currently no entirely deaf schools in New Zealand, just hearing units within deaf schools.

AUT student and Glen Eden Intermediate teacher aid Brooke Hunter said she wanted to take a sign language course while she completed her teaching degree.

“I think it’s really important that all kids know how to have a basic conversation. We are also learning Māori in schools so why not learn the other official language of New Zealand?”

Ms Ferguson, who has deaf children of her own, said even basic interactions in public could have a considerable impact on the deaf community.

“Even if it’s just hello, how are you. Like if you’re at McDonalds or the movie theatre and someone just signs thank you, it makes a hell of a difference to them.”

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