How do deaf and hearing educators understand sign bilingual education? A pilot study comparing South Africa and Scotland

Colleen Bohringer, Irma Maré, Rachel O'Neill*, Nenio Mbazima, Claudine Storbeck, Robyn Swannack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

As teacher educators in South Africa and Scotland, we wanted to explore the attitudes and views of teachers of deaf children. In South Africa, deaf children are more likely to be unaided and attend deaf schools. In Scotland, they are more likely to be aided and mainstreamed. Both countries have official support for the signed language, South African Sign Language (SASL) and British Sign Language (BSL), but is this respect borne out in classroom practices? In both countries, deaf teachers are highly involved with sign bilingual education: in South Africa often as unqualified teachers, whereas in Scotland in a mixture of roles as BSL tutor and qualified specialist teacher with a Masters qualification (ToDs). Their views matter, but until now they have hardly been heard. To move bilingual education for deaf children forward in both countries, we know we have much to learn from looking at the pedagogies in use.

We base the principles of our study on the idea of translanguaging, a concept which has met the field of deaf education with some controversy (De Meulder et al., 2019). Does it mean perpetuating the over-use of signed English systems, close to spoken languages, or the shifts which deaf people use every day to navigate the hearing world using other language resources at their disposal from written, spoken and signed languages? Recent debates about sign language pedagogies suggest deaf teachers may use techniques which hearing educators can learn from (Rosen, 2019; Ladd, 2022).

Following the principle of translanguaging, we wanted to ensure that the online survey to teachers was available in the languages preferred by the teachers: BSL, SASL, written Zulu, Afrikaans and English. We built the survey in RedCAP so that users can shift between languages for different questions, and unusually can upload responses in a signed language or a voice file or by typing. We aimed to have a survey accessible to the whole target group of deaf and hearing teachers. This is a pilot study which allows us to test the method and the analysis approach before planning a study covering more countries.

The findings from 45 validated responses (15 from South Africa, 30 from Scotland) showed that the multilingual survey was successful for gathering basic data about the teachers and their self-assessments of their level of skill in SASL and BSL over their careers. Despite having a similar length of time with deaf children, hearing teachers had weaker signing skills, particularly in Scotland. The survey yielded interesting qualitative data showing the complexity of language use with deaf children in the classrooms of both countries. Responses showed the underlying promotion of spoken English, while recognising the importance of signed languages. Only two SASL responses were uploaded, suggesting that other approaches may prove more successful for exploring the views of deaf teachers.

The likely impact of this work will be in our own teaching of ToDs and for their professional development. In South Africa there is no standard scale for measuring skill in SASL, whereas in the UK levels are widely used. We used the CEFR scale which was understood by participants. Our results will be disseminated to teachers in both countries, and we hope will lead to plans for a wider study of teachers in two more African countries. We recognise the importance of teachers reflecting on their own practices and sharing their successful pedagogical thinking with colleagues.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2022
EventBilingualism Matters Research Symposium - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 25 Oct 202226 Oct 2022


ConferenceBilingualism Matters Research Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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