‘Sign Language’ use as Medium of Instruction: The Case of Grade One and Two at Mekanissa School for the Deaf

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Addis Ababa University


Literatures show sign language is a fully fledged language that can be employed effectively to teach the contents of a curriculum as spoken language. Though the use of sign language in education makes sense educationally, linguistically and psychologically there are many grievances in the practices. In many parts of the world, sign language is seldom used in formal education. On the other hand, when signing is employed, it is either in the form of contact sign language or an artificially constructed manual in which sign codes for a spoken language, mostly. In view of that, this research has attempted to examine sign language use as medium of instruction in primary classes of Mekanissa School for the Deaf. To deal with this, the study employed a case study research technique. The data collected through 20 classroom observations, individual interviews with 7 teachers, 10 students, 10 parents and 3 officials as well as several document analyses. Those data were examined and presented based on their themes in detail following narrative analysis method to achieve the purposes. According to the findings of the study, the Deaf communication approach dominantly employed in primary classes of Mekanissa School for the Deaf is SimCom which is considered as best method by the teachers. Signed Amharic (Manual Codes for Amharic) is the principal MOI, while written and spoken Amharic served in few classroom activities. Unfortunately, the natural EthSL rarely employed as it is in many countries in the world. On the other hand, both the teachers and the students exhibited incompetency to make use of the signed language in the classes besides their unconvinced attitude to utilize the natural sign language as capable instrument of education. The classrooms and their facilities also found to be unsuitable to sign medium. The challenges that hinder the effective utilization identified as they are related to improper proficiency of the teachers, students and the language itself, negative attitude of the users, poor classroom facilitation, material unavailability and lack of clear policies. On the contrary the manualist philosophy the school advocates and sign language training programs of the school appeared to be opportunities for further improvements. Generally, using sign language as MOI has several drawbacks in the cases. However, considering its benefit for Deaf learners, the research suggested to persist on using it along with conducting researches to improve the drawbacks in the practices.