Education16th June 2014

BSL tokenism in Schools

Discussing the lack of BSL being taught in schools and whether it should be on the National Curriculum.

by Charlotte Lawrence

British Sign Language has been recognised as a language since 2003, so I would like to raise the question; why is BSL not part of the National Curriculum?

I am currently studying Primary Education at Newport University and am always surprised at the wide range of subjects that are offered on the curriculum. However, lately I've been thinking... If 1 in 6 people in the UK are either Deaf or Hard of Hearing, why is BSL not given the same status as other modern language subjects like French and Spanish.

Believe it or not, most school's approach to teaching BSL is to simply teach the alphabet. Ask yourself, when you were in school learning your times tables, did you learn your 2 times table and then not bother with the rest? So why is it OK for schools to just teach the alphabet and forget about the rest of the language?

BSL is not a spoken language, therefore there doesn't need to be a sign for every single word. Facial expressions, eye contact, pointing and reference are used to give an impression or emotion. A simple sentence can be taught using just a couple of signs and facial expressions. Surely learning these simple sentences are of far more use than the alphabet. After all, the alphabet is rarely used any more than spelling out names or places.

As if that isn't enough of a disappointment, you might be horrified to know that most schools are actually teaching the alphabet wrong! Like others, schools will often refer to alphabet charts which you may have seen posted in places like Hospitals or your local Health Centre. I feel that this really needs some attention in schools and BSL should be recognised as important as subjects like French and Spanish and offered as part of the curriculum. Secondary schools will offer Greek to a Greek student, Mandarin to a Chinese student, but BSL to a Deaf student, I'm afraid not.

The most commonly taught modern languages in school are French, Spanish and German. Now, think when you may have used these language skills in your life whilst in the UK. Probably not very often, unless you are a teacher or interpreter for one of these languages.

It was found that the number of students taking languages at GCSE level has increased by a third since 2011, so isn't now the perfect time to offer a new language? Give students a real life context, bring Deaf or Hard of Hearing people into school and ask them to share their experiences, and explain why it is so important for people to be able to learn and use BSL.

When children show great interest when they are taught the BSL alphabet, is there any option for them to continue learning BSL? Do schools provide taster courses for BSL as they often do for other language subjects? Do schools share information about external organisations, like colleges that can give students the opportunity to learn BSL? Surely, if this isn't the case, schools are denying their students the chance to further their learning in other areas outside of the curriculum! 

BSL will not only give students the opportunity to learn a new language, but to learn and understand a different culture and way of life. After all, isn't that what society needs now? Broad minded, multi-cultured individuals. 

Sarah Lawrence from Deaf Friendly Business Solutions said during a recent televised interview about the language, "The lack of knowledge and support for BSL from Government, public and private sector organisations means that life limiting outcomes are imposed on deaf people."

Article by Charlotte Lawrence

posted in Community / Education

16th June 2014