Sign language to be taught to Victorian four-year-olds

Auslan to be taught in 26 preschools across the state.

Sign language to be taught to Victorian four-year-olds

Australian sign language is to be taught at dozens of mainstream preschools in Victoria next year in what is being billed as an Australian first. 

The Deaf community has welcomed the rollout and is urging more states and territories to dedicate funds for similar programs.  

At Aurora School Community Kindergarten in Melbourne, deaf children and children with hearing are already learning Australian sign language or 'Auslan'. 

Together they are becoming effective communicators. 

"By the end of four-year-old [preschool] they are able to hold conversations and understand long sentences that are spoken in Auslan," kindergarten director Emily Aisbett told SBS News. 

"It is really great, the progression we see over that time."

Children and educators at Aurora School Community Kindergarten.
Source: SBS

With dedicated funding from the Victorian government, 26 preschools across Victoria will teach three hours of Auslan a week from next year.

Aurora School Community Kindergarten has been funded to offer a bilingual program. Up to half of its program will be offered in sign language.

"I hope that [the experience] will be authentic, that the young children in the kindergartens will communicate with deaf adults and have contact in the Deaf community,” said the principle of the adjoining Aurora School for Deaf and Deafblind Children, Bernie Coleman. 

She said she hopes the children “will recognise that this is the communication and language of a significant part of our community and that they will take it with them lifelong."

The rollout is part of a Victorian government initiative to introduce language programs for children in the year before they start school.

The state government will fund extra staff to teach children the languages in collaboration with existing staff at no cost to parents or the early childhood services.

“We believe this is an Australian first initiative,” said Victoria’s Minister for Early Childhood Education, Jenny Mikakos  

“No other state, territory or commonwealth government is actually offering this type of program.” 

“So we believe we are in fact leading the nation when it comes to teaching language in our kindergartens."

Anne Benson is a deaf educator
Source: SBS

There is excitement in the Deaf community about the program.  

“I feel that it is something wonderful that is happening - that people that are not deaf are learning sign language,” signed a deaf educator at Aurora School Community Kindergarten Anne Benson. 

"As a Deaf person I feel like we are then able to communicate with one another and I feel that we will be at the same level then," she said. "And it is wonderful to see.” 

Calls for nationwide learning  

Deaf Children Australia would love to see directly funded Auslan instruction in preschools nationwide. 

"I am really excited that the Victorian government have gone ahead and introduced languages in preschool, in particular Auslan,” chief executive Roz Keenan said.

“And it would be lovely to see every other states and jurisdictions jump on board and actually fund Auslan in their preschools too.”

In Victoria, a search for Auslan educators is underway. 

"There are certainly some pressure points around finding suitably qualified teachers and educators in the sector,” said David Worland, chief executive of Early Learning Association Australia.

“There is a rapid expansion happening at the moment.” 

Mr Worland says existing staff at early learning services should be supported during the rollout of Auslan so they feel empowered to assist the children in their learning. 

“The more we can do to induct and provide professional learning and development opportunities and provide resources and support to these people is going to be really important to the success of these programs."

Roz Keenan is confident enough suitable Auslan educators will be found. 

"Teaching Auslan is a really unique skill and it is best taught by a deaf or hard of hearing person themselves."

"So to find enough Auslan teachers can sometimes be challenging."

"Holding the system back in the past has been the resources of finding those teachers and paying them adequately." 

But, she says, "I am sure there are 27 Deaf and hard of hearing Auslan teachers who will absolutely lap up the opportunity to teach Auslan to children".

Published 15 November 2018 at 6:06pm, updated 18 November 2018 at 9:26am
By Phillippa Carisbrooke