I hit upon an interesting revelation yesterday at school. However, I would like to share some background first. At a recent lecture on Deaf Education and Wits University in Johannesburg, the following statistics were revealed: In South Africa, the average Deaf school leaver has the general knowledge of what is thought to be 'normal' at 8 years old and writing skills of what is thought to be `normal' at 10 years old. This is a very sad fact of Deaf Education in South Africa (if there is any true form of that!) and it shows what a disservice education has done to Deaf people in this country. Much of this results from past historical realities of education in South Africa: separate learning, the Bantu Education Act, oralism, etc. It is also widespread that many Deaf people in South Africa are functionally illiterate: they can read words, word for word, but are unable to group the words together to understand what the words as a group are saying (i.e. comprehension skills). This does not mean, however, that they do not have anything between their ears! The main means of expression is Sign Language which often reveals the person to be having a deep sense of understanding about the world and very knowledgeable. However, present assessment methods to not allow for these Deaf kids to be fairly assessed: assessment methods are done through written English. We are trying to make it recognised that a precentage of exam marks be allocated to an `oral' (i.e. Sign Language) component to allow the children to express themselves and what they know through a mode with which they are comfortable and which more adequately reveals what they know than written English.
The point is: some of those kids at school who are desperately weak in written English skills and who find this means of expression virtually impossible have taken to Sign Writing much more enthusiastically than those kids who do have the writing skills to express themselves (not to say that these kids are not enthusiastic!).
I realised that there must be something very important in this! Those kids who find writing English virtually impossible might be able to rather write in SignWriting??? Exams, tests, worksheets, etc in SignWriting as a percentage of the whole exam? This is a very interesting insight. One boy, Glen, who is functionally illiterate (he missed YEARS of schooling) has already taken to jotting down SignWriting in his other subjects: maths, biology, english, etc. The present lack of having a book that serves as a `dictionary' to what ALL the symbols in SW mean (e.g. the big black dot, the 'number' symbol #, etc) has not deterred Glen at all -- he has independently worked his way around this by attaching his OWN meanings to symbols. I have not encouraged this otherwise he might end up with his own SW system that no one else understands. HOwever, for now it is working for him and I told him that when we receive more SW materials, we will work on substituting his own SW symbols with the more `universal' ones. Hope that this is the right thing to do?
Anyway, watch this space -- more to come.
Yours in SignWriting