Building global momentum to introduce sign language in early childhood education

Sign language can have many benefits on children’s cognitive and intellectual abilities, while paving the way to include deaf children in early childhood education.

April 03, 2020 by Lily Kudzro
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4 minutes read
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Credit: Devio Early childhood institute/Lily Kudzro
Devio Early childhood institute/Lily Kudzro

Early childhood, defined as the period from birth to eight years old, is a time of remarkable growth with brain development at its peak. During this stage, children are highly influenced by the environment and the people that surround them.

Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECCE can therefore-nurture caring, capable and responsible future individuals.

That’s why ECCE is one of the best investments a country can make to promote human resource development, gender equality and social cohesion, and to reduce the costs for remedial programs later. For disadvantaged children, including deaf children, ECCE plays an important role in compensating for the disadvantages in the family and combating educational inequalities.

Even though inclusive early education is fundamental to the developmental stages of every single child on this planet, there is a large deficit in the provision of inclusive early education globally, which has gone unnoticed by governments, schools, educators, civil society organizations and even development partner groups around the world.

It is estimated that globally nearly half of all pre-primary-age children are not enrolled in preschool. Also according to the Early Years Study, “the concept of ECE today replaces outdated notions of daycare. Instead of ‘a place kids go while mom works’, today’s early childhood education provides a first tier of education that is as important as those that follow’’

Not only is the present early childhood educational systems around the world not offering adequate opportunities to include deaf children, it also doesn’t foster a great environment to help all children practice and enhance their communication skills

Deafness is a hearing disorder, not a learning disability. When they are able to access equal educational opportunities as their hearing counterparts, deaf children can excel and reach their full potential in life; An example is the story of Alysha Allen, a deaf teacher from Brimsdown, United Kingdom, who was recently awarded for using sign language in her classroom to support communication between her and her students.

Sign languages in all ECCE classrooms by 2030
Credit: Devio Early childhood institute/Lily Kudzro
Devio Early childhood institute/Lily Kudzro

Benefits of learning sign language for all children

Research shows that early exposure to signing helps children develop their language and reasoning skills. While some children cry to get what they want, signing children learn how to communicate with words and simple phrases. To communicate with another is far more than just a messaging strategy. Communication and the ability to express oneself is what makes us human. It is surely a right to be able to express oneself and share ideas, words and feelings.

Studies show long-term cognitive benefits, including:

  • +12 IQ point advantage
  • Accelerated speech and emotional development
  • Effective communication
  • Lower frustration levels
  • Improved child-parent/care-giver bonding
  • Reinforcement of learning of educational concepts such as ABC’s, animals, etc.
  • Improved word recollection in children because there is muscle memory involved, and the more senses involved in learning, the greater memory retention the child will have
  • Improved attentiveness to social gestures of others as well as of themselves
  • Larger speaking vocabulary and ability to form longer sentences
  • Earlier reading and larger reading vocabulary
  • Better grades in school.

I’m an early childhood education activist, and Founder of Devio Arts Centre, now the Devio Early Childhood Institute (www.devioearlychildhoodinstitute.org), a non-profit organization that uses innovative and inclusive learning through play approaches to empower early childhood educators and support children’s holistic development. The organization has operations in Ghana, and Kenya.

Last December, I created a petition, calling on the Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF and UNESCO to implement policies and call on authorities in all their partner countries to introduce sign language in ECE.

Sign language can have many benefits on children’s cognitive and intellectual abilities, while paving the way to include deaf children in ECE, and also helping to promote the sustainable development goal (SDG) 4 for inclusive and equitable early childhood education for all children worldwide.

Considering that deaf people globally are confronted with challenges in accessing important information; as seen in the current COVID-19 pandemic facing the world, most leaders and news broadcasts are not offering adequate interpretative services in sign language to send out vital information and updates to deaf people. When sign language becomes part of the language of instruction in ECCE, the world would become accustomed to supporting the communication needs of deaf individuals especially in such challenging times.

The petition has received over 4500 signatures so far from people around the world. I would like this to be the start of a global momentum, calling on more people, civil society organizations to create change and champion the inclusion agenda by bringing sign language into all ECE classrooms.

#The Time for Inclusive ECE is now

#Sign language can make a difference for all Children

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This is an excellent blogpost and something we should consider embedding into ECE programs widely. Normalizing sign languages is only going to improve the human experience for all in education, social and emotional learning, opens doors to innovative thinking and more.

One perpetual challenge is that sign languages are not being promoted the way they should be in many countries. Many do not view sign languages as worthy of being the primary language of instruction for people who are deaf, hard of hearing and deaf blind -- much less the general population! As a result, many people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind learn sign language late in life and are likely language deprived. Thereafter, society views them as 'less than' and ties the worth of sign languages to them.

Let's work together to normalize sign languages and improve quality of educaton and life for all. Check out some of the things USAID ( https://www.edu-links.org/topics/disability-inclusive-education) and All Children Reading is doing to address the need for sign language literacy. https://allchildrenreading.org/competition/sign-on-for-literacy-prize/

One more thing.. in times of COVID sign languages are critical to flattening the curve! No droplets in the air because your mouth doesn't have to open!

Kudos to Lily Kudzro and Devio for their efforts to recognize and promote native sign languages as the modality of instruction and communication. To be succinct, sign language is the foundation for early and successful language acquisition; literacy cannot be achieved until a deaf learner has competency in first language skills, which needs to be the sign language of their respective country. There is abundant empirical data that supports this approach. I recommend reading the briefs at https://www3.gallaudet.edu/clerc-center/info-to-go/asl/summary-vl2-rese…

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