Sign Language In Schools Benefits All Students


Ballymahon Convent of Mercy Secondary School is breaking ground in deaf education in the midlands with a new deaf unit, which is currently educating two young girls in the mainstream system.

An initiative of Eileen O’Donovan (graduate in Deaf Studies at Trinity College Dublin), the unit was set up in September 2008 and supports several deaf students by teaching through sign language.

The students learn all mainstream subjects but are exempt from languages. During these periods they get extra support with English and other subjects.

This unit, the first in the midlands, offers students an alternative to travelling to Cabra in Dublin and allows them to live at home with their families.

Fourth year student Callista Mulligan travels from Offaly each day. Her class are learning sign language and this has helped her settle into school.

She says, “I think the sign language classes are a great idea. When I don’t understand something in class people help me and I can teach them sign.

I didn’t have friends in my old school so sign language made the transition much easier here. It’s nice to make new friends and it is also nice to meet other deaf students at the school. It’s worth the commute every day.”

Other students enjoy learning sign language. Dawn Murtagh commented: “It’s great, it helps us talk to Callista and engage with her. We aim to be able to use it in every day conversation. I’m even thinking about doing something in this field in later life.”

There is no reason students in other schools cannot learn sign language, and it could easily be taught at national school level, as is happening at the national school in Ballymahon, Cork.

St Columba’s national school in Cork also teaches sign language to its students.  In a comment they said, “We follow the bilingual educational philosophy giving equal recognition to sign language and English and, as a result, all our children, both hearing and deaf, are learning sign language. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences for all concerned”

In the past, St Aloysius College in Cork taught its fourth year students sign language. The initial aim of this module was to learn signs to a song which would be performed during that year’s Christmas service with students then deciding to further their learning. Learning song lyrics was an easy and fun way to learn basic words such as and, you, me, for and the.

Learning sign language in school can open up opportunities later in life, be it in the workforce or even when travelling. This summer, 20 year old Lucy traveled to India where she volunteered in a school for the deaf. Her past knowledge of sign language helped her both at the school, and when communicating with locals who did not speak English.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

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