Schools for the Deaf: DEAFSA; DBE; UMALUSI; Principals Organisation roundtable

Basic Education

12 September 2018
Chairperson: Ms N Gina (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

This was a roundtable meeting where stakeholders in deaf education were given a chance to express their grievances and achievements with regard to deaf education in South Africa. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) attended in order to report on its involvement in the process thus far.

DeafSA said education for deaf learners in South Africa had not been designed specifically to meet the educational, linguistic, cultural, social and cognitive needs of the individual student. Deaf and hard-of-hearing learners did not enjoy the right to a quality education. The content and academic levels were not the same as for hearing children. The current situation did not address the students´ individual differences and needs.

It expressed concern about the lack of focus on early childhood development for deaf children, the implementation of sign language as an official academic language without the necessary learner/teacher support material, and the fact that the majority of educators who taught deaf learners did not understand South African Sign Language (SASL). It also requested that teaching assistants who understood SASL should be given bursaries to become qualified teachers. They asserted that there should be full inclusion for deaf learners, which meant a totally supportive and student-centred environment, as this would allow them to develop full educational, social and emotional potential. They also stated that the curriculum should provide the opportunity for students to learn in and study both their local/national sign language, and the local written language, as academic subjects.

The DBE said all learner/teacher support material was ordered by the provinces. A lot had in fact been done for the improvement of deaf education. Among other things, teachers had been trained and resources had been provided for the learners that needed them. The DBE further assured the Committee that it had been working with DeafSA and would continue to strengthen that relationship.

Seven provinces reported on the status of their education departments in catering for the needs of deaf learners. Umalusi also updated the Committee on the quality assurance of the upcoming examinations.

The Chairperson suggested that this would be the first of many meetings of this nature to occur in the future. She stressed that the Committee had planned other meetings to ensure inclusive education for all South African learners. It firmly believed that the doors of learning should be open to all, and would therefore continue to monitor the working relationship between the DBE and DeafSA. Education was a societal matter, so all stakeholders should work together to ensure quality education for all learners.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted apologies from the Minister, Ms Angie Motshega, and the Deputy Minister, Enver Surty, and welcomed everyone to the meeting. She drew attention to the fact that for the first time in the history of South Africa, deaf learners would be writing examinations. This was a significant step taken by the DBE and had to be commended. She also highlighted, however, that there was still a lot of discontent withe the process, because there were many practicalities that still made it hard for learners to have access to quality teaching. There were still problems with methods of teaching that were employed by the schools that offered sign language.

The reason for this meeting, which was the first of its kind, was to find out what the government could do in order to make sure that education was accommodative of everyone. Also, because there were different stakeholders present at the meeting, they could all state what they would like to be done in the future. The DBE would also be given an opportunity to make a presentation on what they had managed to do up to the present. They would not be responding to the grievances that would be raised during the meeting, but would simply be explaining and putting into context what they had done thus far. The discussion would be picked up from there. The provinces would also be asked questions to see what they had done individually in preparation for the upcoming national examinations. Umalusi was also at the meeting to bring clarity on the quality assurance of the upcoming examinations. They had done research into these kinds of matters, and would be presenting information on what had been done and what should be done for the upcoming examinations.

DeafSA: Presentation on deaf education

Mr Bruno Druchen, National Director: DeafSA, Mr François Deysel, National Coordinator, and Ms Odette Swift, Director, all spoke interchangeably throughout the presentation.

They said DeafSA had been founded in 1929. In 1995, the former South African National Council for the Deaf (SANDC) had been transformed into a new organisation that was democratically elected. DeafSA was represented in all nine provinces, with 19 offices across the country. The mission of the organisation was to preserve, protect and promote the civil, human and linguistic rights for the deaf in South Africa.

The organisation was training deaf social auxiliary workers and South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreters. The literacy and numeracy rates for deaf learners had historically been low. Some of the reason for this was because schools for the deaf often discouraged deaf learners from being part of a dynamic academic environment, because they believed that students would achieve sub-standard results. The implementation of the curriculum was subjective and dependent on what resources and skills were available for a deaf child at the discretion of the schools. DeafSA believed that the provision of necessary and adequate support to deaf learners to enable them to actively participate on an equal basis with their peers, should be enhanced and be consistent. A grave concern for DeafSA was that currently in South Africa there were fragmented educational structures for deaf education -- there was no unity in deaf education.

Research studies regarding educational development and language acquisition of deaf children suggested that:

  • deaf students learn best through visual modalities and depend on sign language;
  • deaf children of deaf adults generally had a head start in language acquisition, communication development and educational prowess, and they do well later in life as employees, citizens and leaders;
  • programmes utilising bilingual or multilingual approaches and employing qualified professionals provide deaf children with a strong language base;
  • deaf children who were in school were often in programmes that did not meet their needs educationally, socially or socially; and
  • early educational intervention, bilingual/multilingual programmes, professionals and role models enable deaf learners to achieve full intellectual, social and emotional development.

Full inclusion for deaf learners meant a totally supportive and student-centred environment. This permitted the learners to develop their full educational, social and emotional potential. DeafSA wanted to ensure that educational rights of learners were fulfilled, and therefore reaffirmed its position that all deaf people, including deaf children, had the right to full access to quality education through visual modes, including indigenous sign language environments and educational intervention strategies and programmes in partnership with families, deaf adults and professionals. It called upon the government to ensure full and equal access to educational success for deaf learners based on regular education goals, standards and curricula, and that such curricula should provide the opportunity for students to learn and study in both their local/national sign language and the local written language as academic subjects.

Firstly, Article 24 of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights recognises the right to education of persons with disabilities. With a view to realising this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, states should ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to:

  • The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;
  • The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential; and
  • Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.

Secondly, in realising this right, states must ensure that persons with disabilities were not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities were not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability. Persons with disabilities could access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they lived. Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements would be provided, and they would receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education. Effective individualized support measures would be provided in environments that maximised academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion

As for all learners, deaf children had the same right to education and full access to quality education. Section 29 of the South African Constitution states that everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and further education which the state, through reasonable measures, must progressively make available and accessible. Like all children, deaf children must have access to quality education - their needs and human, linguistic and educational rights, were respected and supported by educational authorities, in full compliance with international policy statements, national legislation and national curricula. It must be understood that deaf children were born with the same capabilities for learning language as all children. They could and should reach their full potential with appropriate visual, quality educational programmes and support.

Deaf education in South Africa had not been designed specifically to meet the educational, linguistic, cultural, social and cognitive needs of the individual student. Deaf and hard-of-hearing learners did not enjoy the right to a quality education. The content and academic levels were not the same as for hearing children. The current situation did not address the students´ individual differences and needs. DeafSA had visited a School for the Deaf in the Northern Cape 2015 and the following concerns had been brought to the attention of the Department -- but no action was taken:

  • No equipment at the school for implementation of a SASL Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS);
  • Lack of a SASL CAPS subject advisor made implementation very difficult, as there was no expert to refer questions to;
  • The school shared a hostel with another school far from Retlameleng, and there was very limited space;
  • Long waiting lists, as the school was the only one catering for the deaf in a geographically large province, and all those waiting required hostel placement too.

At the time of the meeting, there were 21 learners waiting for placement. Subject choice was very limited and was further exacerbated by a lack of teachers in the province overall, let alone specialist teachers. Teacher burnout and frustration levels were high, as they were not trained to teach the deaf, and had to teach both blind and deaf learners as the school had only one post for matric Maths Lit or English, for example. Learners who stayed near the school made use of public transport, as the school combis were old and too expensive to repair. Some parents refused to pay for public transport, so learners were not coming to school. Classes were not full, and learners frequently did not do homework, as parents did not enforce discipline or know how to sign to them to explain what to do. Although teachers had been on the SASL training offered by the Wits Language School, many of the teachers still did not have the necessary SASL skills to teach advanced subject content, and when there was training for teachers and assistants, the North West Department of Education frequently did not provide interpreters, so teachers landed up interpreting for their colleagues. There needed to be an intervention at Retlameleng in order to motivate and upskill teachers to understand the learning needs of deaf learners and to improve SASL skills. One of the overarching consequences was that deaf learners were not getting enough distinctions.

Early identification and intervention had not improved outcomes for most children who were deaf and hard of hearing.  A 2014 policy statement on early childhood programmes by DeafSA had set forth recommendations for increasing inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing infants, toddlers and pre-school children, from birth up to age seven, in high quality early childhood programmes. The current situation was that deaf children were excluded from local programmes providing language-rich environments that were fully accessible to young children who were deaf or hard of hearing. There were no programmes that were culturally appropriate for the diverse community of SASL users. It was known, for example, that there were no family-centred intervention results with better outcomes, and that families needed to be included as collaborative partners.

DeafSA recognised that SASL was the backbone of South African deaf culture. It valued the acquisition, usage and preservation of SASL, and was a recognised leader in promoting the acquisition, learning, teaching, and interpreting of SASL. DeafSA had been established in part to promote and preserve SASL as a legitimate language and an optimal educational tool for deaf children and adults in South Africa, and would not accept that American or British sign language should be used as teaching materials in South Africa. Deaf education could not work until deaf people were an integral part of the system at all levels. They would “Take Back Deaf Education!”

The Chairperson did a short summary of the presentation, highlighting that their main contention was the need for the involvement of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in the the process when it came to the implementation of SASL CAPS. She also wanted to highlight that deaf learners were not mentally challenged, and whenever there was consideration of these policies, this should be remembered. She called on the DBE to make its presentation, outlining the processes that had been followed, and what progress had been made in the provinces. This would not be the last meeting of its kind -- it was only the beginning. She commented that this kind of meeting was important for the Committee as it played its oversight role, because rarely was there an opportunity like this where many stake holders were available to account and ask questions on relevant matters.

Progress in implementing SASL CAPS  

Mr Hubert Mweli, Director-General: Department of Basic Education, said he first needed to indicate that the DBE was working close with DeafSA. However, it was quite apparent that the working relationship had not been not been smooth, or at least had not been a meaningful one. He wanted to acknowledge that the task at hand was quite difficult, and he would not pretend to have all the answers. The DBE depended on external expertise on the management of these kinds of programmes. Although he would not be giving a rebuttal, it was important to note that they would state facts that would directly address some of the problems that DeafSA had had with the DBE. He added that the relationship between DeafSA and the DBE was regulated by law -- schedule four stated how the DBE ought to relate with the various stakeholders. Finally, he wanted to humbly appeal that when one was writing a letter to the DBE, it should be written to the administrator of the Department. Most of what DeafSA had been saying had been mainly a reference to him. They should be sending important letters directly to the administrator so that they could be passed through the right channels and dealt with accordingly. In the future, he wanted to be involved from the beginning of projects.

He also made an apology to the Committee, as he would have to be excused so that he could attend a meeting with the Minister. The DBE’s presentation would be done by other delegates from the Department.

Dr Moses Simelane, Director, National Department of Basic Education (DBE) said the purpose of the presentation was to brief the Committee on the progress of the CAPS. The development of the SASL CAPS had followed as a response to a court case involving Springate and Others v the Minister of Basic Education and Others in the Pietermaritzburg High Court back in 2009. Later, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) had approved the SASL CAPS to policy, as well as its listing with other subjects in the national curriculum statement for Grades R-12 on 3 July 2014. The CEM had granted a further approval for an amendment of all related polices and regulations.

The year 2014 had been set aside specifically for preparing the system for the implementation of the SASL CAPS. Preparations had included the development of materials for the foundation phase and Grade Nine, leading to the development of the national catalogue, the orientation of language subject advisors, as well as the training of teachers and deaf teaching assistants. The DBE had developed a costed implementation plan that spanned from 2014 through 2017, and the plan had been approved by the Heads of Education Departments Committee (HEDCOM) in August 2014. The SASL CAPS was approved as policy in 2015 – there were 159 and 168 teachers teaching in the foundation phase and Grade Nine respectively. There were 79 deaf teaching assistants that had been appointed to assist with the implementation of the curriculum. The system was thus being prepared for the first cohort of Grade 12 deaf learners who would be writing the 2018 National Senior Certificate (NSC).

There were 17 schools for that offered matric. From these, 589 learners from ten of the 17 schools would be writing their NSC examination in SASL home language in 2018. Winter school classes had been organised to support and prepare these learners for writing the 2018 NSC examinations. The curriculum support programme had established a support team to develop teacher guides and supporting documents, and the first meeting was conducted on 20 and 21 June 2018. The extra tuition support planned was to have three subjects in SASL home language, Mathematical Literacy and English First Additional Language (EFAL), to support teachers. Ten hours of teaching were available for each subject, and the focus of the lesson plans had been on challenging content.

When it came to learning and teaching materials, a national catalogue for Grades Four – twelve had been released in January this year. Circular S1 of 2018 was on the prescribed SASL literature texts for the Further Education and Training (FET) phase. All the schools had procured SASL texts from the national catalogue. Guidelines for the analysis of poems and short stories had been provided to all schools. For the teachers, teacher training had been conducted – five-day training for CAPS SASL Home language -- between 2016 and 2017. Assessment and literature training had been held in September 2017 and a training session for home language advisors was held in February 2017. Dr Simelane said that this had included any material that DeafSA deemed appropriate for the curriculum. This underscored the fact that there had been communication with DeafSA, and perhaps there needed to be a better understanding of the rules of engagements between the two, as this would probably make this relationship function better.

Deaf stake holders and SASL linguists had been involved in the development of the SASL CAPS. One of these stake holders was Mr L Magongwa, who was deaf and former National Chairperson of DeafSA, who had participated in the rollout. In addition, deaf individuals were included in the Curriculum Management Team (CMT) which had been established by the Minister to oversee the development of the curriculum, while deaf individuals had also formed part of the National Training Team (NTT). Highly qualified individuals, hearing and deaf, were involved in training teachers in the SASL CAPS. These had included Dr P Akach, former CMT member and Department Head and lecturer in SASL from the University of Free State; Mr Magongwa, lecturer of SASL at Wits, former member of the CMT who was deaf; Prof C Storbeck, former CMT member from Wits, highly qualified in linguistics and literature, and Ms A Swannack, former member of the writing team from Wits Language School, who was deaf, among others.

As support for teachers, 250 foundation phase and Grade Nine teachers and deaf teaching assistants were trained in October 2014. The training was conducted over a two-week period instead of one, as had been the case in previous training sessions. 176 teachers and deaf teaching assistants for intermediate phase and Grades Nine and Ten had been trained in 2015/16 for implementation in 2016. Guidance was provided to provincial education departments to provide additional training for their teachers and deaf teaching assistants in SASL content. Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) had enrolled other teachers in schools for the deaf for accredited SASL courses at universities, and the number of teachers was growing. 24 home language subject advisors had been orientated for the SASL foundation phase and Grade Nine.

Although there had been this progress, SASL was a new subject and so teachers had not specialised prior to implementation from 2015. The utilisation of sign language interpreters did not only benefit hearing teachers, deaf teachers did too, in that interpretation went both ways. It also provided for the equalisation of an opportunity to participate in the training of deaf teachers and deaf teaching assistants.

Regarding the job description for deaf teaching assistants, Dr Simelane said it was necessary to ensure that there were clear roles and responsibilities to ensure that there was no confusion. As a result, the DBE had drafted a job description for deaf teaching assistants to guide PED’s human resource (HR) planning in creating such posts. The DBE had presented the job description during the orientation of school management teams into the SASL CAPS at a national event in February 2014. The job description had also been presented at all national CAPS training from 2014 to 2017. Challenges still remained, however, with the supply of deaf teachers in the system. The sluggish growth in the number of qualified deaf teachers was attributable to the completion rates for deaf learners and the negligible number that had been entering university. For many years, South Africa had reported only 30 deaf graduates from university due to the already mentioned reasons. From the DBE’s perspective, it was envisaged that with the introduction of the SASL CAPS, the situation would be turned around in the near future.

Regarding the performance of deaf learners, research placed a premium on language in education, more so on home language laying a solid foundation. Regrettably though, the absence of official home language and the language of learning and teaching for deaf learners had impacted them negatively, especially on the quality of education. This had led to poor completion rates over the years. DeafSA had occasionally shared findings from monitoring schools for the deaf, which the DBE had used with universities to strengthen teachers’ competence and fluency in sign language.

Representation of people living with disabilities in school governance was provided for in the South African Schools Act of 1996. The DBE was monitoring the implementation of this provision, to ensure that deaf people were able to participate actively in governance structures. For the future, the DBE planned to strengthen its efforts to improve the recruitment of deaf learners into the teaching profession. The DBE sector would engage the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on the quality of the SASL training courses that were offered by universities. The Department would engage civil society organisations on the proposed round table discussion on the implementation of the SASL CAPS.

Dr Simelane called on the Committee to discuss the progress report on the implementation of the SASL CAPS Grades R – 12, and provide guidance on how the implementation could be improved.

After the DBE presented, the Chairperson commented on some of the sentiments shared by DeafSA in their presentation. She said she was uneasy about what had been said regarding taking back their education. Education was a responsibility of the government, and although this was an effort by everyone, the government still played an essential part in creating policies that were in the best interest of everyone, and for this to happen they had to work together. For DeafSA to say they wanted to take back their education, was not the way forward.


Mr A Botes (ANC) expressed how Plato had said that human conduct originated from three primary sources, desire, emotion and knowledge. He wanted to note that Parliamentarians had the necessary desire -- their origin as public representatives came from the people. Importantly the presentation should be seen as a knowledge stream. He was raising this because there had been a number of concerns regarding the quality of the curriculum. At some point, there had to be a meeting to look at the content of SASL CAPS. What was being experienced in normal public schools was the shrinking of the number of students enrolled. There had been a large number of students who had gone missing, and here they were dealing with a special group of people. There had to be some kind of an investigation into the disappearance of students. As a problem that was already affecting the general schooling system, it had to be dealt with while there were still considerations about the SASL CAPS because if not, the problem could worsen and add a further burden on to the already burdened DBE.

He said there were provinces that did not have a sign language enrolment. It was important to move as a Committee to take oversight action on the matter of Retlameleng School, as it could not be that a matter that had been raised three years ago was still a problem today, without any improvements.

Referring to early childhood development (ECD), he said the ECD component that was located within the Department of Social Development should be integrated within the overall education framework of the DBE. There needed to be a debate between the Committee and that of Social Development. He also enquired whether the DBE had a platform where there was information available on special knowledge groups -- a platform where organisations like DeafSA could pledge or transfer information of some sort. This was important for monitoring and evaluation purposes. He was saying this because the DHET had organisations like the South African Quality Authority (SAQA) and the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, Umalusi that provided support to the Minister, and he wanted to find out if the DBE had any such bodies in existence. This was because he was sensing a level of frustration because did not seem like there was any direct body that dealt with grievances that might be had against the DBE, unlike those who were helpful for the DHET.

Ms H Boshoff (DA) said that reading through the presentations left her feeling very concerned. She had always felt that deaf education had always been in a shambles in South Africa, and it seems that talks were always being done in presentations, but there was never really any actual implementation of these ideas. There were 43 schools for the deaf, but there was no database of all the hearing impaired persons in the country to account for them. She would like to know if there was in fact a database between the Department of Health, the Department of Social Development and the DBE that could be used to account for these learners, so that attention could be given to them quickly.

Teachers were not adequately trained for the level of teaching that they did in these schools. With regard to ECD, she wanted to know about the possibility of reaching out to the private sector with DeafSA so that they could adopt a school. This was particularly important, because the equipment required for teaching was expensive, and this could help in alleviating problems of this nature. Regarding subject advisors and district advisors, there should be a help desk at the DBE where people could ask for help should they need it. Now that provinces were implementing the SASL CAPS, there were no monitoring mechanisms, so no one knew how well or badly they were doing, because there was no platform available to do that. Could there be a report on the number of learners registered to write their exams under the SASL CAPS, and what the pre-empted results were. How many schools had been incorporated into the SASL CAPS? What evacuation plans were in place for these schools -- what was going to happen in these schools should something happen?, How long was the current waiting list of the hearing impaired throughout the country it, and what was the DBE planning to do about it until placement was given to them?

Ms J Basson (ANC) said that after the two presentations she was worried and was reminded of the memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela and the kinds of mistakes that were made by the sign language interpreter. She wanted to know where the fault lay exactly, because the DBE says they have been working together with DeafSA, while DeafSA said they had not. DeafSA had also spoken about the incompetence of staff members, while Dr Simelane had said that the people employed by the DBE were all well qualified. What problems did DeafSA have with these people? She also wanted clarification about what was happening in Retlameleng -- was it sharing a hostel with another school because the school did not have space? Had this been verified, or was this being said for “gatekeeping” purposes to keep other learners out? On their oversight, the Committee had they verified that there was no space at the other school that they were supposed to be sharing space with.

On the matter of coders, DeafSA had said there should not be use of coders. Why were they not recommending the use of coders, even though the DBE had been saying that coders had been helpful in the training and teaching of teachers for deaf schools. There also seemed to be a contradiction on the preparedness of the DBE for the final examinations at the of the year -- Dr Simelane was saying they were prepared, whereas DeafSA was saying they were not. Why were they saying this? She also noticed vast differences in the statistics between the two presentations. Dr Simelane had assured the Committee that his statistics were qualified, so where did DeafSA get its numbers?  She had a problem with a bar graph that DeafSA had presented, as there was incongruence with their statistics.

Mr X Ngwezi (IFP) said DeafSA had indicated that the learning and teaching materials were insufficient and unsuitable, and that they might not be enough for the number of learners registered. He would like to find out from the Department if this was true, as they were the ones prescribing the curriculum and would know. Dr Simelane had noted the differences in the number participants who had written exams in 2015/16, and wanted clarity on why there were differences in the numbers. He also wanted to know where this information was kept, because it seemed as though the Department had access to information that was not accessible to other bodies outside itself. He agreed with DeafSA with regard to having a curriculum that started from Early Childhood Development. the reason the mainstream curriculum was standing was because it started from the foundation phase.

He commended Dr Simelane’s commitment to this project and highlighted the importance of working together, and said he hoped that DeafSA would withdraw its statement of wanting to keep matters to themselves because there were many who did not understand sign language. It had to be understood that those who did not understand depended on researchers, which showed that this was inter-dependent, where everyone needed to work together. If this was not done, there was a of robbing learners of an opportunity to be part of a comprehensive curriculum. Finally, he wanted to highlight that the Committee had no intention of sabotaging the progress of learners. During the time he had been on the Committee, he had seen that whenever there had been a problem, the Committee had made it a point to make sure that it was attended to. He was mentioning this because there seems to be a lot blame going on – there had to be a movement past this. They had to move quickly towards solutions.

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said that for the first time she was getting the big picture -- the array of challenges facing deaf education in South Africa -- and it was worrying because she thought if she were deaf she would not know where to go. This was important because it did not only affect learners at school, which the meeting was about, but also many children who were born or still to be born, who happened to be deaf. What kind of interventions were available for these children? She also said that she did not know how the Department of Social Development fitted into the picture, because their role was important in cases of this nature. South Africa as a society still faced a stigma around deaf children -- they were still seen not as having just a hearing impairment alone, but also as having a mental disability. This relationship would be important in combating problems of this nature.

These presentations had highlighted that the DBE was failing these children. It seemed as though the Department had not prioritised their problems, and they were always set on the periphery as an afterthought. She also wanted clarity with the statistics. It had been reported that there were one million deaf people in South Africa. How did DeafSA know this, because when deaf children were born in the rural areas they were not reported as deaf? The curriculum was set to start from ECD up to the later grades – what role did the Department of Social Development have in the facilitation of this curriculum? This responsibility could not lie only with the DBE, as it already had budgetary constraints and other problems. Social Development had to factor in to assist with the implementation.

Ms N Mokoto (ANC) said she had also been deeply disturbed by what had been said, particularly looking at the nature of the relationship between the two critical players. When the Committee had decided that education was a societal issue, the Minister had agreed that it was a non-negotiable matter – building partnerships was one of the key priorities for the Department. Perhaps because of poor communication one found that these relationships did not flourish. The moment partners took emotions out of the equation, then they could work well – there was no need for partners to be adversarial when working together, because everyone had a common goal of delivering service for deaf learners. When there were problems between partners, they did not affect Members of the Committee of even the delegates, they affected people in the ground. Historically, education in South Africa had not always favoured deaf people -- in fact, it had not always favoured people living with disability in general – but if everyone would stop pointing fingers then there would be a better chance of fixing these problems.

If she was chairing the meeting, she would ask everyone to back to their places and think about what had been said and their implications. They could then resume the meeting at a later stage when everyone would have had time to think and ask the right questions, because what had been said had been a mouthful. She still believed that there was a need to go back to the drawing board, and if need be there should be a memorandum for a relationship between DeafSA and the DBE to create a formal means of communication between the two parties. They would not be stepping on each other’s toes and interrupting progress in the process. The other point that disturbed her was where DeafSA wanted to place itself as a standalone organisation. It could not be correct that hearing people should not be allowed to do things on their behalf, even though they would be doing work for their benefit.

Her first question was to Umalusi, as the organisation that was responsible for oversight on quality assurance, as maybe they could put everyone in context with what had been said by the two parties and give an indication of their findings on the preparedness of the DBE for the upcoming examinations. What other programmes did DeafSA have, other than education, because other people also wanted to learn sign language? She had faced such a problem when she worked for a municipal council, she would encounter deaf people and could not understand what they wanted. There were many other examples where a knowledge of sign language would help. She also wanted clarity on the numbers. DeafSA had said there were one million deaf people in the country. but a while back when she was serving in the Portfolio Committee on Communications, it had been reported that there were 4.5 million deaf people in South Africa. What happened to the other 3.5 million people?

The Chairperson said that Umalusi had submitted a report that had also been challenged, and she wanted to give them a chance to make a brief presentation on their findings. The provinces also needed to make brief presentations on their preparedness for the upcoming final examinations – this should be done before Umalusi made their presentation. In future, the Department of Social Development would be present to account on the implementation of ECD programmes. If this was not attended to, parents would end up being given the responsibility for teaching, because these under-trained teachers would refer the children back to their parents because of their inability to teach them. The reason the SASL CAPS had limited subject choices was primarily because there was a limitation on the number of teachers available to teach other subjects. This was something that needed to be addressed so that learners could get exposure to other subjects.

Mpumalanga delegation:

Mpumalanga was currently not offering matric education. They had started last year with Grade Eight, and this year they had a Grade Nine class, along with the newly enrolled Grade Eights from this year. There were five schools that provided education up to Grade Nne. Among others, the problem that faced these schools was the unavailability of subject advisors, but there were subject advisors for home languages. In these schools, there around 22 teachers available and about 10 deaf assistants. As a province, they were planning on establishing a deaf school, but had been having problems with this because it needed to be in town. They had found a site in Mbombela that could potentially be suitable for the building – the local municipality had assigned them a site, and currently they were also undergoing some environmental inspections. All the necessary benchmarking had been done. In these schools, they have been providing the necessary learning and teaching materials, and since there was a national catalogue they had been providing these to the relevant schools.

Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) delegation:

KZN had one of the largest numbers of deaf schools in comparison to other provinces. They had moved people who were competent into these schoos. They had opened posts that would not only help with the teaching of learners, but also on the HR side so that they could also oversee the schools. Posts for Chief Education Specialist and Deputy Chief Education Specialist had been approved for advertisement, and that of a subject advisor at a local level. They had hired a programme coordinator who had 34 years of experience to run the programme. In terms of the support that was given to schools, all schools had deaf teaching assistants – there were 66 of them that had been hired, and of that number, 46 were deaf, this accounted for 70% of them. FET teachers and teacher assistants had been trained and workshopped. All schools had been supported with recording material and sign text to make sure that education was functional. Inclusive education had been conducted to make sure that especially the schools that had matric exams all had the necessary resources required. There were even winter camps in October to make sure that learners were prepared enough for the upcoming exams.

North West delegation:

There were two schools for the deaf in the province, none of which offered matric. There was currently a task team that had been appointed to look into ways of extending the curriculum so that it also catered for matriculants. The learners were in Grade Eight, and Nine level two was also available. At present the province was busy with the profiling of teachers to see who were the most qualified to work in these schools. There were also plans to make sure that there was computer course accreditation for the level two courses. As of yesterday, learners had been moved to a different building that was accommodative of deaf learners -- the previous one had burned down. There had also been strides in training teachers, subject advisors and deaf teaching assistantd. The main problem was that because of where the schools were located, the province was losing teachers, because where they were situated was not desirable for them.

The Chairperson wanted clarification regarding the provinces that had schools that did not reach matric -- what happened to those learners when they needed to complete matric? She said this was something that could be addressed at a later stage.

Free State Delegation:

There were two schools that were for the deaf and blind, at which there were six learners who would be writing their matric examinations at the end of this year. They had been assisting learners, and in August they had run assessments to better prepare them for finals. In their results they had fared moderately. There were going to be spring classes to give them further preparation exercise. In both these schools, there had been a 100% pass rate, with 50% of these passes being bachelors. As presented by the DBE, there were training programmes to equip teachers, and they had also been taken to a Western Cape-based organisation to give them further necessary training. This had prepared them so that when they were trained in CAPS, they could easily adjust. The province now also had teaching assistants for each phase, even for the FET phase. When it came to resources, all six learners had laptops with the appropriate software for their learning. There was also an MTN container that had been donated, which all the learners aware of and could utilise when they needed to in order to have an understanding of the environment that they would be working in.

Limpopo delegation:

In the province there were no grade 12 learners writing exams in 2018. Two of them would be writing next year. There was a computer training lab that would be used for their training. There were posts that had been created -- five of them, one secondary and four primary. There had been problems in filling these posts because there had been financial constraints and the need for approval from the provincial treasury to fill all the scholastic programmes. There were 40 teachers that had been trained on communication, because most of them could not communicate. They had also taken some teachers to Wits to get a graduate diploma. This was all meant to equip teachers better so that they could relay information properly to students. They had also strengthened their relationships with DeafSA. At the end of this month there would be a deaf education summit, where they could fine tune all matters relating to deaf education.

Gauteng delegation:

There were seven schools for the deaf in the province, four of which had Grades from Eight to 12, with a fifth next year also offering matric. There were twelve matric candidates for this year. They were well resourced, with labs that were available for teaching purposes. There had been preliminary exams that had been organised by the province, and they were still waiting for the results. The exams were moderated by Umalusi. There were teaching assistant courses, but in reality they could not be in classes, so right now the province was busy liaising with information systems and job evaluation officials to achieve a distinction between normal class assistants and deaf teaching assistants. They had also undergone a short learning programme that would allow teachers to become competent in the language. The understand was that immersion in the language was what was going to help better understand the language, and that what had been done was not nearly enough, but the strides that had been taken were seen as a step forward in making this a reality. From the Gauteng Education Department and the Literature, Language and Media Unit, whatever training that teachers got was the same as the kind that teaching assistants got. In addition to that, there was a subject support meeting, because they realised that expertise lay within the schools for the deaf. They meet every two months, where challenges are discussed and solutions are suggested. Where it was found that there is no expertise to deal with certain problems, then the Department would liaise with other stakeholders like the Wits Education Department for the Deaf, to assist with the problem at hand. The Department also had a good working relationship with the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP SETA), and training was through them. One of the next programmes was to get some of the teachers to get a Grade R certificate through them.

Western Cape Delegation:

In terms of the readiness for Grade 12 exams, the province had had mock exams the previous month (August), which had gone very well. All the learners had been provided with laptops and there also had to be a booth for the writing of the exams. The province said it envisaged that over the next couple of the years there would be an increase in the number of learners writing their matric examination. This was because in 2011 there had been deaf task team which included stake holders like DeafSA, and there had been an in-depth analysis of the problem in the province, looking at the problem in the frame of the historical backlog caused by apartheid. Training had been done, and teachers and teaching assistants had been sent to a sign language accredited institution. At first, that had been the University of the Free State, but now it was also at Stellenbosch University, so training capacity was being improved. The province also welcomed any criticism that came from any stakeholder regarding the conduct or competence of a teacher so that they could be dealt with. In the past three years, there had been meetings with the Director of Inclusive Education, and relationships had been created with other departments. At this point, there might be a need for a coordinating committee to oversee what everyone was doing, especially since there were so many stake holders involved.

The Chairperson thanked the presenters, and said she would like this meeting to happen again next year so that everyone could get a sense of what had been done to further improve deaf education in South Africa. Although it would not be the same Members of the Committee next year, this was something that should be included in the legacy report, so that this continued.


Umalusi: DBE’s readiness for coming examinations

Ms Mary-Louise Madalane, Senior Manager: Quality Assurance and Assessment, Umalusi, said Umalusi was currently evaluating the DBE’s state of readiness for the coming examinations. This process included the different stages of the examination cycle, right from the registration of the candidate to the certification of the candidate. In addition, Umalusi evaluated the quality assurance processes, and had appointed external moderators and hired external interpreters for the exams. The organisation had also been in contact with DeafSA with regard to appointing monitors that understood the sector and the community.

The DBE had decided to have a fully-fledged preparatory exam, and these had been qualified as standard and approved for all the papers of the exams. The qualifying of question papers for the upcoming exams in November was also in process. The organisation was still waiting for the papers to be done by the DBE.

From across the provinces the organisation saw areas of concern and areas of good practice. Good practice was found in centres that held exams where most procedures were followed as guided. A concern was that in some school’s time allocations for exams, they had applied for an extra time allocation for deaf students. It had been observed that the students whose schools did not apply for extra time had difficulty finishing their papers. This had been one of the reasons for having preparatory exams, to see whether time allocation was correct.

The other concern was that of the training of invigilators -- not all schools had trained their invigilators in time for the exams. In some provinces there also issues of preparatory material not being available in time. The supply of the CD’s and the venues where papers were supposed to be kept, had not been managed well. Another problem was with regards to literature exams -- the poems that were done had not been included in one of the schools.

Umalusi was also involved in the marking, and set the marking guidelines and the process of verification of the marking. Generally, the marking was seen to be good and the mark variance was good, which was a good indication. Going forward, Umalusi would be involved mainly in the verification of the exams, and the standardisation and verification of the marking process.

Umalusi was committed to the improvement of deaf education and would do as much as it could, although its engagement was limited legally.

The Chairperson said she hoped that these challenges had been shared with the DBE.

DeafSA’s response

Mr Druchen wanted to remind the Committee that the DeafSA mandate had been given by the people of South Africa, and what they wanted was reflected in the matters that the organisation saw as important.

In the case of the deaf teaching assistants, what had been reflected in the presentation was based on what they said, as the organisation got regular feedback from them every month. DeafSA worked with hearing people. An example of this would be Mr Deysel, who worked for the organisation, and the organisation had always worked with experts. However, a hearing person could not represent the deaf community the same as a deaf person -- it was just not acceptable. Deaf people’s culture was expressed with sign language. Sign language was their right. The Portfolio Committee had asked what a “coder” was. He would throw a question back at the Committee -- would they allow a person with a hearing disability to be an expert for hearing people? The answer would be no. So, a “coder” was a child of deaf parents who can hear. An example was his son, Antonio -- he did not socialise with the deaf community, but grew up in a deaf family, so he was a coder. That did not mean he was a representative of the deaf community -- deaf people represented the deaf community.

He said many people used the wrong terms. Deaf people were not mute -- they used South African sign language. Mite was a wrong terminology, and to have the Portfolio Committee using that term was disheartening. The other matter was one of statistics. It was known that many of the statistics that were used were taken from Stats SA, an organisation that worked, and one would have to ask them about the variance in numbers.  

He also wanted to bring it to the attention of the Committee that the reason for what was being said was because people were feeling left out. They wanted to be part of school governing bodies, they wanted to be included in the decision-making. DeafSA was not blaming anyone, but simply outlining the concern of the people on the ground. The frustration was about not being able to voice their concerns. DeafSA had a good working relationship with Dr Simelane. There might have disagreements in the pasts, but the concern had always been one of making sure that deaf people in South Africa were catered for.

The Chairperson expressed that the Committee was open and happy to have the meeting. She wanted to stress that the Committee was not challenging what had been presented by DeafSA. She apologised for anything that had been said that had hurtful outcomes. This was not the intension of the Committee.

Mr Deysel replied to the concerns regarding other projects that they were running. He pointed out that DeafSA was an organisation that had approximately 70 staff members, with 19 offices across South Africa. Its main purposes involved social development programmes the organisation worked on with social workers, and it had job placement offices that assisted deaf people in getting jobs. This was where the organisation picked up problems, and that was when it was seen that the work that had been said and done by the DBE was not enough, and certainly did not come close to what had been done for hearing people. There were problems when people with hearing who had been taught by deaf people, got opportunities that otherwise should have been given to deaf people. It was when people with hearing got jobs relating to deaf people within the Education Department, which was extremely problematic because this meant that even they became a barrier to opportunities for people who actually deserved and were well qualified for these positions.

On the question of qualified people listed by Dr Simelane, not all of those hearing experts were good with deaf education. One person on that list, Mr Magongwa, had been part of the Curriculum Management team, and the Minister had said that the implementation process must be overseen by this team. Dr Simelane had ordered that the team be dissolved, and that was why he was not there anymore as a representative from DeafSA.

Ms Swift wanted to respond to two of the matters that had been raised. Regarding the differences in the statistics, she said she had not seen those statistics before, but she could assure the Committee that she would not have released those results unless she was sure of all the responses from the schools. She also thought the differences could also be because the DBE results were for all deaf learners, whereas DeafSA had focused on all the schools that had an FET phase, and which of those wrote exams.

The other matter was on limited subject choices and why this occurred. This was because of the post provision, and the proportion between learners in high schools and learners in primary schools. There tended to be more learners in primary schools than in high schools. This meant that there were fewer teachers in high schools, which would in turn mean that there were fewer subject choices available because of the limited number of teachers available. In addition to this, some schools removed subjects that they deemed too difficult for learners -- for example, accounting and physics were not offered, and maths was offered at only four schools. This limited the choices that would give them a realistic opportunity after high school. This was perhaps because of the level of training that teachers had – perhaps they did not have the kind of training that would allow them to convey complicated subject topics to deaf learners.

Mr Deysel said one could say there was hearing-based “colonialism” happening with deaf education, because there was no respect for the language and the culture. It was known that if one wants to get the attention of a deaf person, one should tap them lightly on the shoulder. At Noluthando school for the deaf, a teacher had slapped a child twice on the head to get his attention.

The Chairperson warned about some of the things that were being said. Teachers should not be all painted with the same brush, because these kinds of situations also occurred in hearing schools. The danger of this narrative was that it would be said that all hearing teachers shared these sentiments towards deaf learners, and that was not the case. There would not be any movement forward if there was that kind of dialogue and belief between hearing and deaf people.

Ms Mokoto highlighted that the meeting was running late, Parliament was about to have its sitting. However, she also wanted to highlight how the relationship between DeafSA and the DBE was affecting their ability to work and deliver, and said that it was the people on the ground who were affected by these kinds of matters. She also wanted to know the role of parents in deaf education. This was something that had been legislated on -- the DBE was not solely responsible for the dispensation of deaf education. Everyone should understand that they were at fault, not just the DBE.

The Chairperson asked whether the schools that had not applied for concessions still had the window of opportunity to do that. Deaf students should not be disadvantaged because of this.

Dr Simelane said that the previous year, schools had until the end of September to do that, so he would like to believe that they still did have a window to apply. He also wanted to respond to a number of issues that had been directed at him regarding the Curriculum Management Team (CMT). He wanted to clarify that the Minister’s request for the CMT had actually been implemented, but this had been done administratively. Moving forward, the DBE had had to look at the expertise that would be greatly needed in terms of implementing sign language. It had then looked at the people who would be part of the national CMT. The whole rollout plan had been implemented by the CMT. When it came to starting with the preparation for implementing the curriculum, members of the CMT had been involved, even in the setwork for Grade 12s, with a team of experts looking at literature. Maybe the matter of Mr Magongwa stepping off was because he had pulled out himself to pursue a PHD degree. This was not because he had been pulled by Dr Simelane.

The meeting was adjourned.

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