June 14, 2021
In the Southern Leyte province of the Philippines, the parents of 7-year-old Adonis enter a training program designed to help them understand the importance of sign language and education for their son, who was born deaf.
At first, Adonis’ parents are skeptical, noting they don’t want their son to learn sign language because they don’t want him to be recognized as deaf. But as the training continues and Adonis’ parents witness professors, advocates and other accomplished professionals who are deaf leading the sessions, they leave encouraged.
“After the training, the parents committed to learning sign language to help their child communicate better with members of the family and community,” says Amy Mojica, deputy chief of party for the Gabay (Guide) project, implemented by Resources for the Blind, Inc. (RBI). “They’re positive their child can learn, attend college and have better opportunities by learning sign language.”
The parent training sessions are just one component of the Gabay project to strengthen inclusive education for children who are blind, deaf and deafblind in the Philippines. The three-year project—funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in partnership with the Philippine Department of Education and Innovation in Inclusive Education for Children with Sensorial Disabilities (ISEND), a network of Disabled Persons Organizations and service providers—involves working with local governments in the provinces of Batangas, Sorsogon and Southern Leyte to identify children from kindergarten to grade three who are blind, low vision, and/or deaf to ensure they receive language and literacy support and resources beginning at an early age.
The Gabay project builds on the recognition in 2018 of Filipino Sign Language (FSL) as the official national sign language of the Filipino Deaf, thereby requiring the inclusion of FSL as the medium of instruction for Filipino students who are deaf. A baseline report by School-to-School International (STS)—the measurement and evaluation partner for the Gabay project—however, found limited sign language abilities among parents and teachers, and limited school resources and services, including sign language interpretation, for students who are deaf.
As a result, RBI focused the Gabay project on identifying and enrolling students who are blind, deaf or deafblind in school, improving reading performance by providing inclusive education resources at school and at home (particularly during COVID-19 school closures), supporting parents and teachers to learn FSL, and implementing an adapted Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to measure whether the project’s goal—improving reading proficiency among children with disabilities—was met.
The All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) initiative, with Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning partner, STS, was among the first globally to implement EGRAs for children with disabilities. The focus is on providing appropriate accommodations for learners with disabilities so they can access the assessment content equitably. Accommodations include providing large print or Braille stimuli, allowing extended time for certain subtasks, and providing enumeration in local sign language.
The Gabay project also aims to attract local government attention to the needs of children with disabilities by providing officials with training, materials, and action plan activities to work in greater partnership with RBI and the Philippine Department of Education to support the needs of children with disabilities.
“One of the key lessons is the importance of not just talking to deaf and blind communities but also communicating with local Department of Education officials at the regional, division and district levels,” Mojica says. “After the Gabay project, these local organizations will have the opportunity to support children with disabilities by implementing their own project with the information learned from Gabay, so it’s been important to keep them engaged.”
The Gabay project builds on a successful project funded by ACR GCD and implemented by RBI to improve literacy for children who are blind or low-vision in the Philippines. The Reading Beyond Sight project, implemented from 2014 to 2017, provided teacher training and mentoring, parent engagement and advocacy workshops, as well as assistive technology, braille and large-print materials to students. In that project, students achieved statistically significant reading gains over peers in the comparison group on all substasks of the adapted Filiipino and English EGRAs.
“We are really grateful for ACR, because our proposal for Gabay was based on our previous project with ACR to support blind and low-vision students,” Mojica said. “Piloting the adapted EGRA through ACR positioned us to expand our work to include deaf and hard of hearing students.”
The project has also leveraged other innovations funded by ACR GCD, including Bloom book creation software, Bloom Library, and the World Around You platform of sign language storybooks. “We’ve introduced Bloom and World Around You to teachers in the field because they’re always looking for resources,” Mojica says. “We’ve also used social media to promote the books on World Around You and Bloom Library as free resources for parents to use to read and learn sign language with their children.”
Aimee Reeves, MERL technical advisor for STS, adds that ACR GCD’s laser focus on supporting and advocating for inclusive education, as well as its partnership with STS in adapting the EGRA for children with disabilities, particularly in the Philippines and Morocco, has influenced other governments to open education programming to learners with disabilities.
“The work started through ACR in adapting the EGRA through the Reading Beyond Sight project highlighted the importance of doing research on learners with disabilities and proved that they can be part of these assessments, instead of being excluded,” Reeves says. “The influence ACR is having in engaging governments, bilaterals and other partners on the needs of children with disabilities does not happen with many projects. The motion and movement we’ve seen as a result of ACR feels unique.”