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Transforming deaf learners’ multiliteracies into sustainable educational approaches: Our new international project is launched

20 September, 2017
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The iSLanDS Institute and Lancaster University (LU) have won a £436,000 grant to promote reading, writing, sign language, technology and multimodal communication, improving the education of deaf people in developing countries. This follows our pilot which examined innovative ways to teach literacy to deaf learners.

Deaflit RA and PT group

Research assistants and peer tutors from the pilot project celebrate the end of their first two weeks of training at the National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH) in Kerala, India, with co-investigators Sibaji Panda (far right) and Uta Papen (sixth from right).

Our new study, entitled ‘Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies: Research into a sustainable approach to the education of deaf children and young adults in the Global South’, will work with deaf children and young adults in India, Uganda, and Ghana, and include outreach to two additional countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This 3-year project is funded by the Education and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID), through their joint scheme Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems.

To address the longstanding problem of deaf people’s insufficient access to schools in the developing world, and their resulting lack of employment, income, life quality and fulfilment, this study expands and further entrenches the pilot’s cost-effective and learner-directed literacy teaching methods. These methods have involved peer-to-peer teaching by local deaf tutors, supported by deaf research assistants (RAs) in India, Ghana and Uganda. Their work is bolstered in the UK including through our online app Sign Language to English for the Deaf (SLEND) and the adaptation of appropriate assessment methods.

Deaflit2 training b

The Director of iSLanDS, Professor Ulrike Zeshan OBE, explained: “I am particularly delighted that we are working with a broader range of partners in this project. For instance, in India, one partner specialises in working with deaf women, and another operates a deaf primary school in a rural setting. I believe we also have the right partners to engage with policy makers in all target countries, and will develop a curriculum for deaf Language and Literacy Trainers in order to make a difference to educational practice.”

Professor Uta Papen, the Director of Lancaster University’s Literacy Research Centre, is leading the training of tutors and RAs in the project’s learner-centred approach to curriculum development and assessment. She commented: “From my experience working on the pilot project in India, I know how important it is that literacy teaching builds on what learners know already, and what they want to use reading and writing for. It is essential that it supports their real needs, rather than being imposed through a largely irrelevant programme created elsewhere. This is the case for children as well as adults. For the deaf learners in the countries who take part in our project, it is essential that reading and writing in English is supported together with other means of communication in particular sign languages.”

To identify generalisable, flexible models that can be taken up by educational providers in the developing world, the project considers the similarities and differences across educational systems in the different countries. It focuses throughout on the agency of deaf learners, researchers, tutors, and educators who implement the interventions.

Deaflit2 training c

Sibaji Panda, a deaf research consultant working for UCLan in India, concludes: “We believe in ‘deaf-led research’ as the most appropriate approach to our work. The new Indian team looks energetic and armed with experience from the pilot.”

Our UK team also includes Dr Daniel Waller, UCLan, who is particularly responsible for learner assessment, and Dr Julia Gillen, LU, who is working with Phil Tubman, an LU Learning Technologist, to support the online sharing spaces. Our project partners include the Delhi Foundation of Deaf Women and the Rural Lifeline Trust in India, the University of Ghana, Makerere University in Uganda, and the Uganda National Association of the Deaf.

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