I’ve just read that ministers are facing calls to make British Sign Language count as a Modern Foreign Language at GCSE Level.
Personally, I can hear. However, I’ve always thought that more hearing people should have the option to learn BSL. I have always wanted to learn it myself. I wish it had been open to me as a GCSE subject, and maybe even a subject at secondary school level.
As I got older, and developed my interest in all disability issues, I learnt that there is a community of Deaf people who do not see themselves as disabled, but rather as part of a ‘linguistic minority.’
There are plenty of ‘linguistic minorities’ whose first spoken language is studied at school level- why can’t BSL speakers be added to the list? Why shouldn’t they? If they have the great strength and extremely positive outlook that it takes to think of themselves as a linguistic minority while being at what some would consider a great disadvantage, why should we who can hear not support that outlook by giving them the linguistic status they are asking for?
I’m very interested to learn that a modern language is defined, in England, as a language that can be spoken or written. Since BSL does not have a written vocabulary, it cannot currently be classed as a modern language under that definition.
However, deaf awareness charity Signature points out that sign language is included on the education curriculum in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Swedish students can study Swedish sign language at GCSE level.
The Government has said that if a British Sign Language GCSE was created it would count in league tables as a measure of broader achievement.
Signature is developing such a GCSE course. They are working with the independent exams regulator, Ofqual, which approves new GCSEs, to gain approval and they want the subject to be introduced as a foreign language under the new national curriculum, which is currently being finalised.
But Signature argues that BSL deserves the same status as other minority languages such as Gaelic and Welsh.
The charity’s communications director Paul Parsons told the BBC: “If we believe that one of the reasons for teaching a modern foreign language is because it can bring long term economic value, then there’s no reason why BSL should be disregarded.”
He added that such a change would open up career opportunities for young deaf people by enhancing their employability and allowing them to look at career opportunities not previously considered.
He went on to say: ”If deaf students are able to gain a qualification in their first language whilst still at school, they will feel more comfortable and confident about going to university. We need to do all we can to create an environment of inclusion, widen participation and increase access before it’s too late.”
Although there is currently no GCSE level qualification available in BSL, there are other qualifications on offer, including some at degree level.
A spokesman for the Department for Education told the BBC that Signature and Ofqual were working together to ensure that any GCSE in BSL is of the right quality and reflects the richness of it as a language.
They explained: “All new GCSEs will count towards the ‘best eight’ performance measure, which will encourage schools to maintain a broad curriculum for all students. This could include a new GCSE in British Sign Language, if an exam board produces a qualification that is deemed of suitably high quality by Ofqual.”
Personally, I sincerely hope Ofqual gives their approval for a GCSE course in BSL. I will follow the progress of these plans with great interest, and keep readers updated with any developments.
Sarah Ismail is a blogger and disability rights campaigner who edits her personal blog, Same Difference, which covers disability issues big and small. She is also a charity worker, poet and journalist. Follow her on Twitter as: @samedifference1
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