Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Department of Education and Skills
Irish Sign Language
Question 177: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the mechanisms he will examine to promote the recognition of Irish sign language; the persons who examine these mechanisms; the time-frame during which they will conduct their examination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17217/11]
Question 178: To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Icelandic and Hungarian sign language have been recently recognised in their respective States; his plans to make Irish sign language an official language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17218/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 and 178 together.
The Deputy may be aware that Section 2 of the Official Languages Act 2003 states that "the official languages" of the State are (a) the Irish language (being the national language and the first official language) and (b) the English language (being a second official language) as specified in Article 8 of the Constitution.
I wish to advise the Deputy that Irish Sign language (ISL) has formal recognition in the Education Act, 1998. Under the Act, it is a function of the Minister for Education and Science (Skills) to ensure, subject to the provisions of the Act, that there is made available to each person resident in the State, including a person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of that person. This includes provision for students learning through ISL.
A number of initiatives which seek to promote, develop and implement ISL in order that it will achieve greater recognition and use in the education system are currently in place. These include:
the special schools for the deaf have been encouraged in relation to the use of sign language in class.
funding for an ISL weekly home tuition service whereby deaf tutors visit the homes of deaf pre-school children and deaf school-going pupils to provide training in ISL for the deaf children, pupils, their siblings and parents
funding is also made available through the Special Education Support Service (SESS) to enable individual teachers and whole school staff to undertake courses in Irish Sign Language which are available throughout the country through a variety of providers.
In addition, the Visiting Teacher Service for Children and Young People with a Hearing Impairment is provided by my Department from the time of referral through to third level education. The Visiting Teacher service provides advice and support to ensure that the needs of children and young people with hearing impairment are met. This service is available at pre-school, primary and post-primary levels. Specifically, the service works in partnership with parents of pre-school children with hearing impairment, visiting their homes and/or meeting them in groups to inform, advise and offer guidance in matters pertaining to their education and overall development and in helping their children to derive maximum benefit from the educational opportunities available.
The Deputy may be aware that assessment, rehabilitation and information services for children with hearing impairment and their families are funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE), either directly or indirectly. Services provided include communication therapy and lip-reading classes as well as sign language classes.
My Department, through the Higher Education Authority (HEA), has established and funds a Centre for Deaf Studies in Trinity College, Dublin which provides diploma courses for ISL/English interpreters, deaf tutors and in deaf studies. The course modules deal with issues such as sign linguistics, bilingualism and socio-linguistics of sign language. The course is delivered in seminar sessions/group work and the award of the diploma is based on continued assessment and a project and course design. The HEA has allocated €387,000 in core funding to the Centre in the current academic year.
Finally, I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has commissioned an external, high-level review of the issues surrounding deaf education. This review will focus on models of provision with reference to evidenced-based outcomes and the implications of adopting different approaches. I look forward to receiving the policy advice from the NCSE in this regard.