CUHK Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education Programme Awarded the Zero Project 2020 Innovative Practice Award on Education

Developed by The Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies (CSLDS) of the Department of Linguistics and Modern Language at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education (SLCO) Programme has been awarded the Zero Project 2020 - Innovative Practice Award on Education by the Essl Foundation, in recognition of the Programme’s distinguished contribution in driving access to mainstream inclusive education for the deaf.

Chris Yiu from CUHK CSLDS receives the Zero Project 2020 Innovative Practice Award on Education on behalf of the SLCO team.

The SLCO Programme is an inclusive education project dedicated to promoting whole school participation of teachers and students alike. Since 2006, the research team led by Professor Gladys Tang from CUHK Department of Linguistics and Modern Language has gradually established the SLCO Programmes in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, enabling deaf and hard of hearing children as well as hearing children to learn together in both signed and spoken languages in a bilingual teaching environment. 18 years of educational support are available to the children. Over the years, SLCO has provided different services to more than 500 people. In 2019, up to 160 deaf and hard of hearing children have benefited from it. Most of the deaf children involved have severe hearing loss. Learning sign language not only helps the deaf and hard of hearing children become more articulate, but also enables them to learn together with hearing students and to access classroom information in a sign bilingual and barrier-free educational environment. Such learning opportunities were unavailable to them before due to hearing loss. At the same time, hearing students have the opportunity to become “sign language masters” by participating in the project, helping them build empathy and acceptance of the deaf and absorb knowledge in a teaching environment with rich visual elements.

To drive and implement the Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Zero Project every year gives awards to innovative practices around the world that improve different aspects of life for people with disabilities in order to create a world without barriers. The theme of Zero Project this year was “Education” with 436 nominations from 79 countries. After two rounds of voting by 3,000 experts, 75 winning projects were elected. SLCO was selected as the only winning project in Hong Kong and China amidst keen competition.

The CUHK SLCO team is honoured to have stood out from the various projects around the world, and the award is the result of the team’s commitment and effort over the past decade in adding sign language as a language of instruction in mainstream oral education. The work of the team also proves that bilingual education can promote effective communication and nurture friendship between deaf and hearing students, and achieve mutual help and integration.

Chris Yiu, Senior Programme Officer of CSLDS at CUHK, recently went to Vienna to receive the award on behalf of the team and gave a presentation on the concept of SLCO to participants from different countries. He thanked several charity foundations for their support and expressed his gratitude towards the SLCO team members for their selfless efforts. He recalled the difficulties in carrying out the SLCO Programme at the beginning, but with the selfless support of the team members, they resolved the problems one by one, just like “The Foolish Old Man Moving Mountains”. Chris said, “Myths and misunderstandings are two big mountains that hinder education reform. We need perseverance to remove them. At present, many people still have misconstrued myths about sign language, which has led to long-term misunderstandings in the education of deaf children. After years of hard work, we hope to change these views so that more people can appreciate how sign language as a fully-fledged visual language can help children’s language and cognitive development in education.

A group photo of Chris Yiu (2nd from right) from CUHK CSLDS and members of Zero Project 2020 organising committee.

About Zero Project

Zero Project was founded by the Essl Foundation in 2008 and is committed to focusing on the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. It is a platform that provides the most innovative and effective solutions for people with disabilities and its purpose is to support and implement the Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to create an accessible world. Its network currently has more than 4,000 experts from 150 countries or regions around the world. The Zero Project meets every year to allow participants to share innovative policies and practices that help improve the lives of people with disabilities, and praise related plans and projects. For details, please visit: 

About The Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education (SLCO) Programme, CUHK

The SLCO Programme of CUHK established a one-stop “through-train” education system for deaf and hard of hearing children, allowing them to have equal educational opportunity from pre-school to post-secondary education, and to learn together with hearing children to build an inclusive society.

Due to an emphasis on oral learning and teaching in the Hong Kong education system, it makes it difficult for deaf and hard of hearing children to learn in regular classes. In view of this, CUHK’s CSLDS launched the SLCO Programme in 2006 to let deaf and hard of hearing children enroll in a mainstream kindergarten. The ratio of students is usually one deaf or hard of hearing child to three or four hearing children in each class. A hearing teacher and a deaf teacher teach in oral and sign language collaboratively, so that deaf and hard of hearing children and hearing students can learn bilingually in sign language and oral language. After graduating from the kindergarten, the deaf and hard of hearing children can join SLCO’s partner primary school and then the SLCO secondary school.

The SLCO Programme began in 2006, with a donation from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust for eight years. The Lee Hysan Foundation and Fu Tak Iam Foundation Limited also supported the Proramme in 2013 and 2014 respectively. In 2019, SLCO was sponsored by Galaxy Entertainment Group to extend the Programme to Macau. In addition, SLCO’s service network has also expanded to cover some neighboring places, including Singapore and the Quzhou city in the Zhejiang Province of mainland China.

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