The Reading Project, A method to develop the literacy skills of young Deaf children in Africa

Hearing children learn to read by linking letters to sounds, for Deaf and hard of hearing children a different approach is needed; therefore we develop and pilot a Deaf specific toolkit for teachers in both Tanzania and Uganda to support literacy education to Deaf and hard of hearing children from nursery to year 3 of primary education.

Our pilot consists of training lecturers/tutors to be reading coaches who (co)train teachers. The teachers implement the toolit in pre-school and the first years of primary education. The reading coaches support the teachers during implementation using Video Interaction Guidance. 

The effect on teaching is monitored to show the impact of our approach.

Background/further information

Our colleague Kika Meereboer has spent a year in Tanzania working at a school for the Deaf through the Tanzatoto foundation. During her time at the school she worked with the teaching staff to develop a reading method specifically for young Deaf children, based on methods and techniques used in the Netherlands.

A specific method for Deaf children is pivotal because reading methods tend to be focused on phonics; the link between letters and sounds. By making this connection a written text or word is immediately linked to the spoken language hearing children already know and use constantly. Deaf children cannot make this connection (as easily) and they have less to no knowledge of the spoken language; this means that a phonics based reading method is not effective for Deaf learners. Instead Deaf and hard of hearing children first need to develop their Sign Language skills, after they have these language skills teachers can start on teaching written words. The written words (and eventually sentences and texts) have no meaning for Deaf and hard of hearing learners until they are linked to Sign Language the children already know. Fingerspelling is used to teach the order of the letters in a word, and speaking and listening to help children create phonological and awareness and strengthen the kinesiologic memory for words.

Our lead expert Sonja Jansma has written the toolkit for teachers, working with various professionals from Uganda, Tanzania, and experts in the Netherlands. Ensuring a toolkit that is rooted in evidence from research and the best practices in schools in the Netherlands, Uganda, and Tanzania. It consists of essential theoretical information, practical links with existing lesson plan structures, new skills, and exercises based on Kika’s work and best practices as well as  input from the teacher training.

The toolkit addresses Sign Language communication development, linking written text to meaning through Sign Language, and using meaningful contexts. Apart from teaching skills the teachers are also trained in making their own teaching materials.

In the project we also address prerequisites for teaching Deaf learners, such as use of visualizations, communication development, and effective feedback for learning. The reading coaches are trained to use Video Interaction Guidance, to coach and support teachers beyond the training weeks.


In this project we work with several partners and consultants, such as: The National Curriculum Development Centre of Uganda, Dr. S. Lutalo-Kiingi from the Kyambogo University Uganda, lecturers and staff from AMUCTA, Anders Mutembei, and Godfrey Muganda from the University of Dar es Salaam.


Project duration: December 2014 - December 2021
Contact person: Emmie Wienhoven