The exclusion of deaf children and young adults from access to school systems in the developing world results in individuals and communities being denied quality education; this not only leads to unemployment, underemployment, low income, and a high risk of poverty, but also represents a needless waste of human talent and potential. To target this problem, this project extends work conducted under a pilot project addressing issues of literacy education with young deaf people in the Global South. Creating, implementing and evaluating our innovative intervention based on the peer teaching of English literacy through sign language-based tutoring, everyday real life texts such as job application forms, and the use of a bespoke online resource, enabled us to generate a sustainable, cost-effective and learner-directed way to foster literacy learning amongst deaf individuals. To reach further target groups and conduct more in-depth research, the present project extends our work to new groups of learners in India, Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda and Nepal, both in primary schools (ca 60 children in India, Ghana, and Uganda) and with young adult learners (ca 100 learners in interventions, plus ca 60 young adults in scoping workshops in Nepal and Rwanda).
In the targeted countries, marginalisation begins in schools, since many have no resources for teaching through sign language, even though this is the only fully accessible language to a deaf child. This project intends to examine how we can change some of the dynamics that contribute to this, by involving deaf individuals in the design of new teaching approaches, and by using children and young people's everyday experiences and existing literacy practices as the basis for their learning. Participants in such a programme will not only develop English literacy, but "multiliteracies", i.e. skills in sign languages, technology, written English, gesture, mouthing, and other forms of multimodal communication. Developing a multilingual toolkit is an essential element of multiliteracies. Being 'literate' in the modern world involves a complex set of practices and competencies and engagement with various modes (e.g. face-to-face, digital, remote), increasing one's abilities to act independently. Our emphases on active learning, contextualised assessments and building portfolios to document progress will increase the benefit to deaf learners in terms of their on-going educational and employment capacity.
Apart from the actual teaching and interventions, the research also investigates factors in existing systems of educational provisions for deaf learners and how these may systematically undermine and isolate deaf communities and their sign languages. Our analyses will identify the local dynamics of cultural contexts that our programmes and future initiatives need to address and evaluate in order to be sustainable. One challenge we encountered in the pilot was the lack of trained deaf peer tutors. There is a need for investment in local capacity building and for the creation of opportunities and pathways for deaf people to obtain formal qualifications. Therefore, at least four deaf project staff will enrol on an MA programme in Applied Linguistics/TESOL at our partner institution in India. We will develop training in literacy teaching and in research methods for all deaf project staff.
We will also develop and adapt appropriate assessment tools and metrics to confirm what learning has taken place and how, with both children and young adults. This includes adapting the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for young deaf adult learners and the 'Language Ladder' for deaf children so that we use locally-valid test criteria. To document progress in more detail and in relation to authentic, real life literacy demands we need to create our own metrics, which we will do by using portfolio based assessments that are learner-centred and closely linked to the local curricula.
The beneficiaries of the research are primarily young deaf people in India, Uganda, Ghana, Nepal and Rwanda, who are subject to systemic disadvantage in each context and are in need of experience and knowledge in a mixture of literacy skills, including in English, digital literacies, local sign languages, and multimodal communication. Policy makers and educators will also benefit from the study, as it will help them to more effectively harness the abilities of this group and facilitate better educational access for them, improving these governments' capacity to achieve their aims of educational inclusion for all and meet the requirements of the UNCRPD.
The impact of our project will constitute firstly an increase in actors' agency in their contexts, especially those from signing communities, through a range of capacity building activities, and secondly the forging of influential South-South collaborations. These partnerships shall be based on instrumental improvements like exploiting learner-driven technology, communication through sign language and learner-centric assessment for literacy pedagogy; they will also involve dedicated work on conceptual policy-related impacts by an international team of academics.
These two types of benefit, instrumental and conceptual, require engagement with both the target learner groups and the academics, officials and educators who have influence over policy in each of the contexts. UCLan has already begun engaging with the target learner groups in India, Ghana and Uganda through the pilot, and more recently has worked to increase the Indian deaf community's research skills and capacity, through a 10-day workshop on deaf-led research with 22 deaf participants in June 2016, including most of the project staff from the pilot. Preparation meetings, which have helped the team to target our beneficiaries and develop the strategic routes toward reaching them, were held with deaf organisations and other stakeholders and prospective partners in September 2016 (see Pathways to Impact).
A working group on analysing educational systems of language and literacy provision, focussing on the dynamics of exclusion and barriers to innovation both contextually and generally, will report twice during the project and contribute to the final reporting. To ensure involvement of our learner groups in the conceptual impacts as well, we will run a series of multi-stakeholder participatory workshops (following the framework known as 'collaboratories'). These collaboratories are workshops for up to 60 cross-sectoral project participants that embed systematic engagement into the study by making use of creative facilitation methods to move from vision to action. Their outcomes are reported through multimedia case studies, encompassing video (e.g. short documentaries and interviews), plain English text, and visual stills (e.g. posters and slides). We will produce at least six systematically curated multimedia case studies, based on experiences from the pilot project which had used video-based research documentation effectively.
The increased agency and capacity building is intended to exceed mere incidental learning acquired in project work, and seeks to make concrete provision for suitable individuals from our target beneficiary groups to embark on an academic career, by enabling at least four research assistants to enrol in Amity University's MA programme in Applied Linguistics/TESOL.
We will also develop upskilling activities for all deaf staff a six-month part-time training and development programme. This programme will be further developed into a curriculum for a one-year certificate course to be submitted to the Rehabilitation Council of India for accreditation, thereby enabling deaf sign language users to gain professional accreditation as "Language and literacy trainers" in India.