Tanzania PM launches Sign Language initiative

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The initiative which was launched during celebrations of the International Week of the Deaf (IWDeaf2019) in Iringa over the weekend, will also promote full participation and rights of the deaf community in Tanzania.

A press statement issued by the Institutions for Inclusive Development (I4ID) sated that the initiative will include a major campaign to consult deaf groups around the country to harmonize different signs and to agree an expanded vocabulary.

It will support the development of a full primary and secondary school curriculum as well as conduct training for special needs teachers, led by the Tanzania Institute of Education.

I4ID is funded by UK and Irish Aid. It is supporting the government and institutions such as Chavita, Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) and Patandi Teachers’ College for Special Needs to fully integrate sign language into the education system.

Speaking at the event, I4ID team leader, Sachin Gupta said: “Until now the responsibility of society to provide a properly functioning sign language for the deaf to be able to communicate has been overlooked. But now TSL is being fully developed and integrated, which will be critical for helping ensure no child gets left behind by the education system, and improving inclusion, participation and quality of life for all deaf and hard of hearing people.”

CHAVITA Executive Director, Dickson Mveyange said that teaching sign language to a deaf child is like giving a wheelchair to someone who can’t walk.

He added: “Deafness is a disability of communication, just like paralysis is a disability of movement. Sign language is the most productive medium of instruction for deaf learners and it enables deaf people to fully develop personally and culturally. It is the only tool we have to fight against poverty, oppression, marginalization, and inequality.”

British High Commissioner to Tanzania, Sarah Cooke said: “It is crucial for education systems to be inclusive to ensure all children benefit. I’m pleased to see the progress made by the government of Tanzania, following the Global Disability Summit in London, in improving quality education for deaf children with the help of UK Aid and civil society”.

“Ireland is pleased to support efforts to make the education system more inclusive,” added Irish Ambassador to Tanzania, Paul Sherlock as he commends the government and civil society for the positive steps taken to reach children that are at risk of being left behind.

Ambassador Sherlock said the Tanzania deaf community stands to benefit significantly from ongoing reforms.

Head of the UK Department for International Development in Tanzania, Beth Arthy noted that they are pleased to see the commitment of the Tanzanian government on making education available to all.

Arthy said: “We are committed to supporting the government further expand opportunities for disabled children and I am proud that UK Aid support has played a role in bringing this about through our Institutions for Inclusive Development Programme (I4ID)”.

The launch of the Tanzania Sign Language (TSL) initiative follows an announcement in September last year by Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Joyce Ndalichako that Tanzania will adopt sign language as the national language of education for the deaf.

The critical role sign language plays in allowing deaf people to live, learn, earn and fully participate in all areas of public life has been the focus of the week’s campaign.

For decades sign language was stigmatized in Tanzania, and in the few places where deaf children were taught how to communicate using signs, they rely on a patchwork of different sign languages developed at home or brought from other countries, which has made communication and further education a major challenge for the deaf community.

In 2018, Tanzania’s only specialist secondary school for the deaf, Viziwe Njombe Secondary School, made headlines when every student failed the country’s most important exam, Form IV.

The government responded with a policy review that has led to several important initiatives for the deaf community.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) estimates indicates that there are more than 600,000 people with hearing difficulties in Tanzania, including many out-of-school youth not served by any kind of education.

The World Federation of the Deaf estimates at least 80 per cent of the deaf globally receive no education at all. This is especially true among deaf women and girls.

On 19 December 2017, the UN General Assembly declared 23 September as International Week of the Deaf. The objective of the day is to raise awareness of sign languages and strengthen the status of sign languages.

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