CIES2023: Panel discussion literacy path for deaf learners

Banner congress CIES 2023

The Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) 2023 conference in Washington, D.C. surprised with a number of presentations that were related to Deaf education. It is good to see that inclusion plays an increasing role in international education programming.

Kentalis International Foundation held a panel discussion with eKitabu (Kenya) and Deaf Child Worldwide (UK) on the concept of language before literacy. Children who are deaf, first need knowledge of sign language before programming can move to literacy development. Exposure of young deaf children to correct sign language is pivotal. Often, the home environment with hearing parents and at a later stage, the school environment with non-signing teachers, both negatively impact the development of sign language vocabulary. We need to concentrate on increasing the signed vocabulary, before moving to words, sentences, literacy. 

Kentalis International Foundation – observation tool for sign language

Kentalis presented its observation tool for sign language development in young children. This evidence-based tool was developed by Kentalis Academy and is used for decades. Kentalis International Foundation adapted the tool to the Kenyan sign language context. This tool was then introduced to the eKitabu team in Kenya. 

Four female presenters CIES 2023

eKitabu – impact of signed stories and deaf teachers

eKitabu shared their insights on distributing story books in Kenyan Sign Language (Digital Story Time) to primary schools in Kenya together with placing deaf teachers in those schools. Research outcomes (based on two schools) showed that enrolment went up within a year due to better school facilities, namely deaf teachers and suitable materials. Moreover, 65% of the 40 deaf learners successfully transitioned to the next grade. eKitabu also noted serious gaps, such as a lack of funding for deaf teachers, the need for better Sign Language acquisition for hearing teachers, and unstable electricity and data connectivity. 

Deaf Child Worldwide – sign language delay

Deaf Child Worldwide presented their baseline research, conducted in 2018, on the sign language ability of children and teachers in Kenya. It underlines the tremendous delay in language acquisition among children who are deaf and the confusion among educators regarding the language environment. There is a need for accessible materials for early language development, teacher training in deaf education, and raising awareness among policymakers.

Final thoughts

The panel discussion complemented presentations from the three organizations at previous CIES conferences and emphasized the complexity of the 'path to literacy' for children who are deaf. It also showed how important the active involvement of deaf professionals is in the development of accessible materials as well as bringing more deaf teachers into schools.