Deaf pupil’s language bid

2009-07-16 00:00

THE future of Kyle Springate (18), a deaf matric pupil at Westville Boys’ High School, hangs in the balance while the Education Department challenges his application to have sign language recognised as an official language for matric.

The case was due to be heard in the high court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday and drew a large crowd of people from deaf and blind organisations who picketed outside the court in support of his cause.

The Education Department has noted its intention to oppose the application. The case was adjourned to August 19.

Springate is being supported in his application by his mother, Paige McLennan-Smith, and the Deaf Federation of SA (DeafSA) and the KZN Blind and Deaf Society.

Springate is asking the court to declare the failure of the national and KZN ministers of Basic Education to allow him to be examined on sign language for his senior certificate to be unconstitutional and unlawful. He is also seeking as an order allowing him to sit for the exam this year.

He submits that the rights of deaf pupils or those with impaired hearing are infringed by the existing education policies.

In an affidavit, McLennan-Smith says that if the application does not succeed, it will probably affect her son’s chance to attend university. He hopes to study for a Fine Art degree.

She says Springate has, by arrangement with Westville Boys’ High School, taken SA Sign Language as a subject for his entire high school career in anticipation of it being one of his matric subjects.

At the “11th hour”, she learned he cannot do so as it is not recognised as a subject for the National Senior Certificate exams.

She says Springate has worked hard and got to his final year because of his excellent ability to lip read.

Springate never took Afrikaans or Zulu in primary school and will need sign language to communicate with his deaf peers.

McLennan-Smith says that in 2006 when her son was asked to submit his subject choices for matric, the KZN Education Department issued a computer-generated form indicating that he was registered for sign language, and allocated it a subject code. She therefore had no reason to doubt that he could take it in his final year.

In October 2008 at a conference organised by DeafSA, she learned for the first time that the department has yet to approve sign language for matric. She and the school’s principal among others tried in vain to negotiate with the department.

To ensure that Springate qualifies for his senior certificate if the court application is unsuccessful, McLennan-Smith says her son has started studying dramatic arts. But he is trying to catch up on three years of work and is more exhausted than usual after a normal school day in which he is required to concentrate hard to lip-read.

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