Asia's only spoken and sign language programme faces uncertain future in Kowloon

School waits for funding for one-of-a-kind project teaching spoken and sign language

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 11:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 5:38pm

The only primary school in Asia that teaches in both spoken and sign language is unsure whether it can continue the programme as its funding runs out.

A seven-year project at the Kowloon Bay St John The Baptist Catholic Primary School, financed by the Jockey Club, winds up at the end of the school year and the government has yet to indicate whether it will support its continuation.

“We don’t have the resources to accept more deaf students,” headmistress Vu Im-fan said. But we will definitely do everything in our power to continue this integrated teaching if we can, because this is part of our teaching philosophy.”

One class in each grade takes in about six deaf students and two teachers – one using spoken language and the other translating the lesson into sign language – teach simultaneously.

Deaf students end up understanding more of the spoken language and can speak better while non-deaf students become fluent in sign language.

“It’s been so good for all the students,” said vice principal Rebecca Ng Kit-lan who learned sign language to teach in the bilingual classes.

“Those who are not deaf learn things which no class could teach – acceptance of those who are different and compassion.”

“Those who are not deaf learn things which no class could teach – acceptance of those who are different and compassion”
Vice principal Rebecca Ng Kit-lan

Undersecretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung visited the school last month but the Education Bureau had yet to promise any support, Ng said.

The Centre for Deaf Studies in the Chinese University of Hong Kong collaborated with the school in the seven-year “experiment” after deaf students were seen struggling with loneliness and lack of support in mainstream schools.

The school set up all necessary support such as hiring deaf teachers who could teach in sign language, training their own teachers and preparing extra teaching materials.

Ng, involved in the programme since it began in 2007, said parents had been very supportive, with some requesting that their children to be in the class with deaf students.

“They realise the value of it,” she said.

The first batch of deaf graduates moved on last September to Form 1 at a secondary school with bilingual classes – the only one in Hong Kong.

Deaf students’ communication, reading and writing abilities were basically up to par with non-deaf students, she said.

Deaf teachers hired by the school also feel a sense of achievement.

“I never thought I could be a teacher. So this for me is an accomplishment and I’m proud of what I’ve done,” Sung Leung-sing said through a sign-language translator.

Sung said while deaf students benefited from being educated in mainstream schools with non-deaf students, they should not be robbed of the chance to learn sign language that could help them communicate more fully. Sung, whose parents are also deaf, learnt sign language at home.

Teacher Sing Siu-ying, who is not deaf, said the classes bad been rewarding and students learnt early on to get along despite disabilities.

“I worried in the beginning how it would work having two teachers. It took a bit of adjusting, but I really enjoy it. It’s very rewarding to see the students being able to fully understand what was taught despite not being able to hear everything,” said Sing.

Educating the children together also erased the stigma of being disabled.

Sing said she will continue to teach in the school because of this programme.

“It would be a waste if we have to end such a meaningful programme which has proven to be successful,” said Ng. “It has been helpful for deaf students, non-deaf students and extremely rewarding for teachers and educators involved.”

Watch: Sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired