May 1, 2022
What are the global trends in education and literacy for the deaf and hard of hearing? What solutions and tools are available to support deaf and hard of hearing children and their families around the world?
These topics were addressed during a virtual panel on April 21 at CIES 2022 hosted by All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government. ACR GCD has focused on identifying and bringing to scale the most promising EdTech solutions for addressing barriers to ensure children with disabilities learn to read.
Research shows that children experience greater reading success when learning in their local spoken or signed language. According to UNESCO, children taught in a language they understand are more likely to enroll and succeed in school, and their parents are more likely to communicate with teachers and participate in their children’s learning.
And yet, of the estimated 32 million deaf children globally, 80% do not have access to education and only 2% receive education in sign language. Without early access to language, children fail to develop social and cognitive skills at the same rate as their peers, hindering their ability to learn to read and write and isolating them from society over the course of their lives. Research shows that early exposure to sign language and multilingualism, combined with strong family support for sign languages, best prepares children who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) for effective participation in society.
Moderated by ACR GCD Program Manager Valerie Siwotso, the panel looked at work to support the growth of literacy for DHH children and their families, EdTech solutions to support that growth, and challenges faced by education professionals in four sessions:
Session 1: Trends of Education Systems and the DHH Community.
Panelists Chris Kurz, professor at Rochester Institute for Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID), and Michael Vea, faculty at De la Salle-College of Saint Benilde and consultant with Philippine Federation of the Deaf, focused on the educational landscape, options for DHH children and the laws that support deaf-centered education in the Philippines. The panelists also addressed the approach to DHH education based on Attitude Planning linked to sign language recognition as an official language, developing resources in Filipino Sign Language, the effort to increase learners’ proficiency with acquisition of adapted learning materials, and training for teachers. The session concluded with a focus on the World Around You, a multilingual sign language storybook platform developed with funding from the ACR GCD Sign on for Literacy Prize and Zero Project Award recipient this year.
Session2: Supporting Foundational Literacy with Sign Language Rhyme and Rhythm and Shared Reading
Dr. Leala Holcomb, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee, and Krishneer Sen, managing director and consultant for Deaf Consultancy Pacific, addressed the methodology behind supporting foundational literacy through SLRR and Shared Reading, a set of shared videos that engage very young DHH children with rhymes and rhythms. Signed rhyme and rhythm are, by nature, musically visual, making language engaging for children and useful to families to support DHH children’s language acquisition at home. Through the act of watching and signing along to signed rhyme and rhythm, children participate in positive social interactions with family members. Panelists also emphasized key messages that language comes first, then literacy, and the importance of shared reading time involving parents, siblings and the school community.
Session 3: Literacy for Deaf Learners in Africa through Utilization of Digital Sign Language Storybooks.
Panelist Susan Thuo, project coordinator for eKitabu, spoke about the development of Studio KSL (Kenyan Sign Language), a project launched during the ACR GCD Sign on for Literacy Prize to test the impact of accessible, early grade reading materials in KSL. Studio KSL has since expanded to include national sign languages in Rwanda, Malawi, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Thuo emphasized that language is the currency of life–without it, we cannot meaningfully participate or engage with our communities; early vocabulary and reading also promotes a sense of belonging for children. Thuo ended the presentation with a brief highlight of eKitabu’s Digital Storytime, an accessible digital content initiative to broadcast sign language video storybooks with closed captions over a government digital TV channel to homes in Kenya.
Session 4: Can EdTech Help the Learning Needs of Children with Disabilities: A Grand Challenge Retrospective of Solutions that Work and Why
ACR GCD Chief of Party Sergio Ramirez-Mena presented a brief retrospective of solutions focused on DHH children developed through ACR GCD prizes and challenges and shared current activities focused on DHH children through the current challenges: Begin with Books Prize, Ready2Read Challenge and the Unrestricted Challenge. ACR GCD is one of the largest innovation funds investing directly in education technology for DHH children in marginalized and low resource contexts and is currently investing over $3 million USD in inclusive education solutions, with an emphasis on pre-primary and primary children with disabilities.
USAID Disability Inclusive Education Specialist Josh Josa, a panel discussant, provided remarks and facilitated responses to audience questions. Panelists also reflected on perceived attitudinal shifts to the use of sign languages as the different shared tools and resources have been more broadly used.
Sergio Ramirez-Mena is Chief of Party for All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.