ACR GCD catalyzes localization to strengthen deaf education in Malawi

 The Malawian National Association of the Deaf leads the way in advancing the use of sign language and accessible storybooks in schools for the deaf in Malawi. 

ACR GCD catalyzes localization to strengthen deaf education in Malawi
MANAD’s Mr Sekerani Kufakwina, Promoting MSL Accessible Books Coordinator handing over the Devices to Ms Grace Nyirenda the Headteacher for Karonga School for the Deaf

Mr Sekerani Kufakwina, Promoting MSL Accessible Books Coordinator for MANAD, handing over the devices to Ms.  Grace Nyirenda, the headteacher for Karonga School for the Deaf

In the span of three years and amid a global pandemic, the Malawian National Association of the Deaf (MANAD) has evolved from a small local disabled persons organization (DPO) to a regional leader. This significant evolution was driven, in part, by the organization’s participation in projects funded by All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) that support localization.

Initially, MANAD served as a subcontractor to eKitabu, a winner of ACR GCD’s Begin with Books competition, a global challenge to develop books in languages children use and understand. The DPO supported eKitabu in the creation of 50 accessible Malawian sign language storybooks for deaf learners. These storybooks are the first of their kind and now available on  eKitabu’s Open Digital Library.

With additional shared expertise and training by Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) and the Sign Language Storybook Cohort (SLSC), MANAD was primed to provide technical assistance to schools for the deaf. This preparedness enabled them to compete for and win the Sign Language Books in Action prize, which focuses on promoting and driving the use and distribution of books in underserved languages produced under the Begin with Books prize. The technical assistance award empowered the organization to purchase a small number of tablets and train educators to employ the digital devices to supplement their current curriculum with sign language storybooks across seven schools for the deaf in Malawi.

In line with ACR GCD’s commitment to equity and accessibility for those for whom English is not a first language, the Sign Language Books in Action prize broke ground as the first ACR GCD solicitation that allowed submissions in either sign language or a written format. MANAD seized the opportunity, and their win bolstered their role to prime contractor, with eKitabu supporting as a subcontractor. The role reversal is a win for global networks, like the SLSC, that seek to empower DPOs to lead the effort, in partnership with local ministries of education and other stakeholders, to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

The Workshop participants are sampling and learning how to operate the Pico Projectors. Facilitated by MANAD’s partner, WV Malawi’s Makayiko Kayimba.

The Workshop participants are sampling and learning how to operate the Pico Projectors. Facilitated by MANAD’s partner, WV Malawi’s Makayiko Kayimba.

Throughout this period, MANAD has not only grown but also influenced key stakeholders in Malawi. As a key participant in the Begin with Books’ Accessible Publishing workshop, MANAD deepened their relationships with local publishers, World Vision Malawi and the Directorate of Special Needs Education, furthering MANAD’s goal of making sign language education more accessible through collaborative enrichment of all facets of the book chain in Malawi. Furthermore, this approach aligns with USAID’s commitment to a localization agenda that USAID Administrator Samantha Power notes in USAID’s Localization Vision and Approach, “If we truly want to make aid inclusive, local voices need to be at the center of everything we do.”

In collaboration with eKitabu, MANAD transformed printed sign language vocabulary books into a free digital, interactive Malawian Sign Language (MSL) early grade vocabulary glossary. Using this innovative resource, children can select words and letters of the alphabet, which are linked to MSL video books that demonstrate how to sign these terms, making it much easier for young readers to develop fundamental literacy skills.. 

Recognizing MANAD’s skills, World Vision Malawi partnered with the DPO to ensure Inclusive Education goals are reached in their programming. The two organizations are working together to retrofit books created by World Vision Malawi with sign language videos and human-narrated audio. The books, which will be available in Bloom Library, a free online collection of over 10,500 books in underserved languages, will increase accessibility in World Vision reading camps. 

“MANAD has a vision for enhanced collaboration and partnership with World Vision Malawi in the hope that more of the books that were made available on Bloom Library will be adapted into Malawian Sign Language and that Deaf children will participate in the national Spelling Bee competitions,” noted Sekerani Kufakwina, MANAD’s Sign Language Books in Action prize technical.

MANAD’s journey and the networks formed along the way have strengthened the inclusive education sector as well as increased advocacy for and visibility of sign language in Malawi. The Ministry of Education and Directorate of Special Needs Education, which supports and collaborates with MANAD under the Sign Language Books in Action prize, recently invited MANAD as a representative on their Inclusive Education Technical Working Group (IE-TWG). This is another first for local DPOs, and one that is critical to locally-led action for sustainable solutions that will enable the DPO to contribute in decision making as well critical policy issues affecting Deaf education.

“MANAD’s story exemplifies how a mechanism like ACR GCD can effectively respond to complex challenges in low resource settings and drive a localization agenda that empowers stakeholders to adopt and advance the solutions and innovations funded through this Grand Challenge,” says Erin Williams, Program Manager for the Begin with Books and Sign Language Books in Action prizes. 

“Local deaf led organizations like MANAD are well positioned to advance the educational outcomes of all children in Malawi, in support of the initial vision that created ACR GCD over 11 years ago. Over the lifetime of the Grand Challenge, we have sought to integrate solutions that improve programming, bolster the book chain and improve learning outcomes for all children, which is the legacy of ACR GCD. MANAD’s success is a case study in how nontraditional mechanisms can harness innovation through small investments that yield large returns in the inclusive education sector and impact future generations of learners.” 

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Jamie Brian contributed to this article. ACR GCD is a partnership between USAID, World Vision and the Australian Government.