Under the current education system in Macau, hearing-impaired students will generally be encouraged to attend mainstream schools in “inclusive” classrooms. While the Macau Government provides additional financial resources for schools to support them, hearing-impaired students, depending on the severity of their deafness and in spite of having cochlear implants, may still face difficulty adjusting to class learning and to engage socially. The Galaxy Entertainment Group Foundation hopes to introduce a more dynamic, systematic and effective sign bilingualism and co-enrolment education model for these inclusive classrooms at mainstream schools for hearing-impaired students.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Centre for Sign Language and Deaf Studies
Colégio Diocesano de São José (5ª)
Infantário de Nossa Senhora do Carmo
In January 2018, the Foundation launched the “GEG Sign Bilingualism Co-enrolment Pilot Scheme” and commissioned the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong to help establish a Pilot Scheme in Macau. The Pilot Scheme starts at the nursery level to cater for the needs of hearing-impaired children, providing them with an early introduction to “bilingual” – sign and spoken – language input to enhance their early childhood education process, and progressing onto kindergarten. The implementation of “bilingual” language teaching in inclusive classrooms is defined as the hearing class teacher pairing up to co-teach in class with a teaching assistant, who is a deaf adult fluent in sign language and trained as a teaching assistant.
The Pilot Scheme was launched in the 2018-19 academic year, when ten hearing-impaired children were enrolled in the Pilot Scheme, 5 each at the kindergarten at Colégio Diocesano de São José 5, and the nursery "Infantario de Nossa Senhora do Carmo”. In its second academic year (2019/20), fourteen hearing-impaired children are enrolled in the Pilot Scheme, ten in the kindergarten (five children each in K1 and K2) and four in the nursery. In the kindergarten, one teacher and a deaf teaching assistant co-teach using both spoken and sign languages in the inclusive classrooms, and the deaf children attend class together with other hearing children. The same is done in the nursery with the support of a deaf teaching assistant, but in a less formal classroom setting. The Project Team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong closely monitors the Pilot Scheme’s progress and provides ongoing training and advice to teachers and school administrators.
The Pilot Scheme expects to help build a solid language foundation for hearing-impaired students through the simultaneous use of sign and spoken languages, enhancing their overall literacy and language abilities. Hearing children attending the classes are also expected to benefit from the practice, as their language development will be enhanced through exposure to sign language, while developing increased empathy for the less fortunate.
Teacher Training and School Support
Prior to implementation of the Pilot Scheme, all teachers from the participating kindergarten and nursery attended sign language training conducted by staff members from the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In addition to learning sign language to enable teachers to communicate with hearing-impaired children, the training helps to enhance teachers’ knowledge regarding sign bilingual education and teaching strategies for hearing-impaired children and children of deaf adults.
Teacher Support in a Co-Teaching Environment
In order to support deaf and hearing teachers to use sign and spoken language to co-teach, the Project Team at the Chinese University of Hong Kong visits the school and the nursery periodically to conduct class observation and after-class evaluation. The Project Team will also share practical teaching skills with the hearing teachers and the deaf teaching assistants to help them systematically establish the mode of bilingual co-teaching unique to the Scheme, assist in the development of sign language resources and provide professional advice on visual education materials. These visits from the Project Team allow the schools to continually improve their teaching skills and create a more conducive learning atmosphere in the bilingual classroom.
Promoting Whole School Participation & Developing Inclusive Education
Many studies have shown that sign language is beneficial and can be used to help students with special educational needs (“SEN”), in addition to those who are hearing-impaired. Apart from helping deaf and hearing-impaired students, the Scheme also provides advice on general teaching for SEN students, particularly those who are following individual education plans set up specifically for their learning. This is because sign and spoken bilingual input strategies can simultaneously enhance learning even in hearing students, and particularly those with special needs. The Project Team will periodically conduct reviews with the school and provide professional advice on the development of the sign bilingual co-teaching, and how to overcome any issues encountered in implementing the Pilot Scheme.
In a “bilingual” environment at the nursery, the class teacher, with her deaf teaching assistant, regularly organise bilingual storytime activities for the various classes. Storytime is co-presented by the teacher and the deaf teaching assistant using spoken and sign language simultaneously. Movements and props are crucial in facilitating imitation of the actions required in sign language for the key vocabularies used.
The deaf teaching assistant will also provide one-on-one training sessions to hearing-impaired students twice a week. The deaf teaching assistant will make use of different activities, games, and educational tools to enhance the students’ abilities in different areas such as cognition, language, emotion, etc. Individual training helps the hearing-impaired children to build up their vocabulary and understanding of sign language, in preparation for their transition to kindergarten.
The nursery also collaborates with the Chinese University of Hong Kong to provide parents with workshops on bilingual story-telling, run by the teacher and the deaf teaching assistant, to enable them to experience and better understand the bilingual teaching mode that is used in class. Parents are invited to join their children to attend and enjoy these story-telling workshops together.
To promote the Pilot Scheme to parents of hearing-impaired children, the Social Welfare Bureau has set up a referral system for the sign bilingual programme at the nursery. Parents with hearing-impaired children aged 1-3, or who are themselves hearing-impaired may apply for their child to be enrolled at the nursery through social welfare centres, child and youth service centres, agencies for hearing-impaired persons or those providing early intervention subsidised by the Social Welfare Bureau. More information can be found at: https://www.childcare.ias.gov.mo/referral-2?token=2XsvIQqc74ikw5lsyRwzrg==&lgType=en
Even though the Pilot Scheme is still at its early stages of implementation, parents with children who are attending the nursery offering sign bilingualism are already seeing the positive benefits on different areas of their children’s development, such as communication and learning motivation.
From parents of hearing-impaired children:
From parents of hearing children
The practice of co-teaching – where classes are prepared and taught by a hearing teacher and a deaf teaching assistant at the same time – is the main theme behind the bilingual inclusive classroom. Three members of staff , two hearing teachers with one deaf teaching assistant, are in charge of the inclusive class at the kindergarten.
Preparation for lessons requires more time, but is crucial to ensuring that both the hearing teacher and the deaf teaching assistant are not only familiar with the teaching content, but can work together to effectively deliver the lesson content through spoken and sign languages. Through this mode of teaching, hearing-impaired children, with the rest of the hearing students in the class, receive both spoken and sign language input allowing them to learn, interact and communicate effectively.
The Sign-Bilingualism Co-enrollment Scheme has an established system for the classroom to accommodate the needs of hearing-impaired students, through the provision of sign language input and visual learning materials. For the entire school, the promotion of an inclusive environment to include hearing-impaired children will also require school administrators to evolve and adapt to include allowances such as special examination arrangements, sound equipment for the hearing-impaired, and encouraging teachers who may not be teaching in these inclusive classrooms to learn sign language so as to communicate with the hearing-impaired children in school. Special resources for the hearing-impaired students enrolled in Scheme are also made available by the Chinese University of Hong Kong through a dedicated website.
In order to advocate and promote inclusiveness in the kindergarten, bilingual sign and spoken elements are also included in school activities. At morning assembly, a hearing-impaired student from the inclusive class will lead the kindergarten in signing the song lyrics, and at extra-curricular and other school-wide activities, the school will ensure that sign interpretation is available to meet the needs of hearing-impaired students. The deaf teaching assistants are also available to help hearing-impaired students who choose to attend after-school “homework club” with revision and homework during which sign language support is provided.
From Parents of Hearing-Impaired Children:
From Parents of Hearing Children:
Language Assessments for Hearing-Impaired Students
The Project Team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong will also regularly conduct language assessments for hearing-impaired students to chart their language development, allowing teachers to understand their language level so that adjustments in teaching can be made as needed and training can be better tailored to suit their needs.
The Pilot Scheme has been well received by both the school and parents. Since the Pilot Scheme’s implementation, the school has made it a point to introduce the concept and principles of sign bilingualism to new parents and collect information on their willingness to enroll their children in the inclusive class. For both years, over 80% of about 150 new parents (from each cohort) had expressed their willingness to enroll their children in the inclusive class, reflecting their acceptance and support for the concept of the sign bilingualism programme.
Professional Advisory and Consultation Services to Parents of Hearing-Impaired Children
The Project Team regularly meets with the parents of hearing-impaired children to provide counselling, and to provide consultation on appropriate measures regarding their development. The Project Team will also regularly meet with the parents of these children to discuss their child’s progress. To enhance parents’ understanding towards sign bilingual education, and to enable them to better understand sign bilingual teaching, the Project Team will also hold different workshops for parents on topics such as hearing and speech training, and bilingual sign storytelling.
Based on research evidence and the needs of deaf education, the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong introduced, in 2006, an innovative sign bilingual education model which incorporates and strengthens the idea of inclusive education in mainstream schools. Real inclusiveness in education is achieved by enabling deaf and hearing children to develop collaborative learning using both signed and spoken languages through co-teaching by deaf and hearing teachers. The bilingual learning environment where deaf and hearing teachers and students integrate can also enhance their bilingual development and learning effectiveness.
As of 2019, 6 nurseries, 3 kindergarten, 3 primary schools, and 1 secondary school are using the Sign Language Co-enrollment model Asia-wide. The programme is now operating in Hong Kong (2006), Singapore (2017), Macau (2018), and the province of Quzhou (2018) in China. A total of 160 deaf children are enrolled in the programme during 2019-2020 academic year.
In 2020, the Sign Bilingualism Co-enrollment Scheme received the Innovative Practice Award on Education awarded by the Essl Foundation’s Zero Project, which focuses on the rights of persons with disabilities globally.
GEG Sign Bilingualism Co-enrolment Pilot Scheme - Part 1
In 2018, the Galaxy Entertainment Group Foundation launched the “GEG Sign Bilingualism Co-enrolment Pilot Scheme” in one kindergarten and one nursery in Macau. Under the Scheme, one teacher and a deaf teaching assistant co-teach using both spoken and sign languages in the inclusive classroom, with hearing-impaired children attending class together with other hearing children. The Scheme expects to help build a solid language foundation for hearing-impaired students through the simultaneous use of sign and spoken languages, enhancing their overall literacy and language abilities. Hearing children attending the classes are also expected to benefit from the practice, as their language development will be enhanced through exposure to sign language. In addition, the Scheme believes that this learning environment can also cultivate the students’ empathy for the less fortunate.
GEG Sign Bilingualism Co-enrolment Pilot Scheme - Part 2
In order to support teachers and their deaf teaching assistant to co-teach in the “GEG Sign Bilingualism Co-enrolment Pilot Scheme”, the Chinese University of Hong Kong offers sign language training to these teachers, and visits the school regularly to closely monitor the project’s progress and provide ongoing training and advice to teachers and school administrators. With the participation of the Catholic Diocese of Macau, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau, the Social Welfare Bureau and the Labour Department in the pilot, the Scheme hopes that its positive result will eventually be fully recognised and supported by the government, enabling the Scheme to continue its implementation as these students progress through their academic careers.