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K-12 to use sign language as mother tongue for deaf

Sign languageSign language (Photo by Mario Ignacio IV)

By Mikhail Franz E. Flores, VERA Files

Now that the K to 12 system of education is being enforced in the country and native languages have begun to be used as medium of instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3, deaf children will also get the chance to use their mother tongue: sign language.

The Deaf Education Council (DEC) began consultation with deaf educators in developing a sign language curriculum for non-hearing pupils at a forum at the University of the Philippines College of Education Auditorium last month.

The DEC and the deaf community will decide what sign language public schools will use in the mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) for the deaf.

The MTB-MLE is an integral part of the DepEd's K to 12 educational reform program which added two years to the erstwhile 10-year basic education cycle. The mother tongue will be the medium of instruction from kindergarten to Grade 3. The languages include Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Ilocano, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao and Chavacano.

If adopted by DepEd, Filipino Sign Language (FSL) would be the "13th mother tongue language."

DEC was formed on the recommendation of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, who met with members of the deaf community last September. The council is mandated to provide direction and facilitate efforts to improve deaf education in the country.

The group is composed of four non-hearing and three hearing members. The non-hearing members are Rey Lee, president of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD) as the council chair; PFD secretary George Lintag; Raphael Domingo, coordinator of Education Access for the Deaf at the Center for Education Access and Development (CEAD); and Yvette Apurado Bernardo, an executive board of the Phil-Sports Federation of the Deaf.

The hearing members are Therese Bustos a deaf education specialist from UP; Liza Martinez; director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center and Theresa Christine dela Torre, CEAD director.

Bustos said the project is gathering volunteers to develop the curriculum. Four working committees are set to be formed to develop a curriculum for each grade level, she said.

As a language of its own, sign language must be institutionalized in schools to help non-hearing children learn in their own mother language, said Dina Ocampo, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Education.

"If we are able to mainstream signs in the Department of Educationprogramming, then we will reach more and more deaf children," she said.

Ocampo added that deaf education is more of a language matter rather than the content of the curriculum or materials.

"The main core issue, I think, is language," she said.

Bustos clarified that sign language is separate from spoken languages. Thus, FSL, the language used by more than half of Filipinos with hearing disability, is different from Filipino.

"Ang may koneksiyon lang sa wikang senyas na nakakonekta sa wikang sinasalita ay ang finger spelling. Lahat ng senyas ay walang kinalaman sa wikang sinasalita (Only finger spelling is related to the spoken language. All other signs have no relation with the spoken language)," Bustos said.

Bustos said that around 54 percent of Filipinos with hearing disability use FSL, which is the preferred sign language to be used as medium of instruction. However, the deaf community will still have the final say on what sign language to use for their own MTB-MLE program.

At present, the Signed Exact English (SEE), a manually encoded adaptation of spoken English, is being used as the official language for deaf students, said DepEd Undersecretary Yolanda Quijano.

The deaf community, however, prefers the FSL over the SEE since Filipinos have their own culture and identity and the FSL better reflects these.

Bustos also said the exact number of deaf schools is difficult to determine since most of them are dependent on the availability of teachers.

"Once a teacher resigns, the program is also removed," Bustos said. The country, though, has one residential school for the deaf, the Philippine School for the Deaf.

The 2000 Census shows that around 120,000 of the total PWD population are deaf. The census puts the total number of PWDs at 942,098 or 1.23 percent of the total population of the country.The 2010 census has not been released.

A 2011 World Health Organization study said PWDs make up about 15 percent of a country's population, especially in developing countries.  This would then mean more than 13 million Filipino are PWDs.

One in two Filipinos with hearing and speech impairment has had some elementary education, 28 percent some high school, 20 percent some college and two percent up to postgraduate, according to a Social Weather Stations survey.

(VERA Files is a partner of the "Fully Abled Nation" campaign that seeks to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections and other democratic process. Fully Abled Nation is supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")

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