Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from W.D., Papua New Guinea

How effective will it be for a child using Melanesian Sign Language in mainstream schools?

Question from W.D., Papua New Guinea. Posted March 3, 2017.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

As long as the school provides qualified sign language services or the teachers sign (fluently) for themselves, sign language is just as appropriate as spoken language for educational purposes. There still will be the important issue of effective communication with classmates, but hopefully an interpreter can facilitate that. But, even if sign language and spoken language are both appropriate in the classroom, they are not equivalent. Children who use sign language or spoken language have somewhat different strengths and needs, so it is important for parents and teachers to make sure that each child is getting services that match. Teachers may not have been trained in those differences, and some are subtle, so reading current textbooks or other materials will be helpful. Also, even if children are using sign language, hearing aids can be very helpful for those who have some amount of residual hearing. Finally, I should emphasize the words “qualified” and “fluently” in the first sentence. This may not be possible in all places, but for children who do not use spoken language effectively, fluent language models are essential if they are to have the same opportunities and academic outcomes as hearing children.